San Andrés Calpan: Without them there is no chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa)

Chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa) is a Puebla dish with nationalist legends behind it and multiple truths in a story that is interesting to know, but one thing to know is that it would not be possible without the ingredients available during July and August on the slopes of Popocatépetl.

By Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (16) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Nature dictates when to prepare chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa)

In San Mateo Ozolco and San Lucas Atzala, villages of San Andrés Calpan, several families harvest the necessary supplies to prepare chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa). They sell them both in markets and in inns and restaurants of the capital and the surrounding area.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (15) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa) is expensive, it is also painstaking to prepare. Therefore, it is not an everyday meal or from every household in Puebla. The latter is one of the most important pieces of general knowledge to demystify, along with the legend that they were created to entertain Augustine of Mexico or originated in a convent. Much of their consumption depends, too, on the state of the crops.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (7) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Sabores del Campo

Sabores del campo in Calpan is a cooperative that since 2016 has been working as a group and for at least a decade looking for their crops to be preserved, valued and generate better profits each year. 

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (12) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

There are 25 families dedicated to the cultivation of the leche variety of pears, 20 to walnut, 15 to Creole panochera apples and 10 to the cultivation of Creole peaches. The current recipe also includes pomegranate, but they focus on the ones mentioned above.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (4) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Freddy Marcos, Pascual Méndez and Cecilio Morales are three of San Andrés Calpan's farmers dedicated to these supplies. Its area has also been characterized by the planting of Creole corn known as white, blue and cacahuazintle (peanut): this is synonymous with resistance as some other Puebla regions already sow only hybrids.

They also have beans such as runner, pinto and black beans, as well as fruits such as plum, chokecherry and apricot, which are the ones that mark the beginning of their work. Then, the ingredients of the chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa) come, and at the end it is the hawthorn which is the fruit that closes the cycle each year.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (18) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Freddy is part of a family that has been dedicated to fruit farming, but he is a technician in agriculture. He says that young people do not like working on land and they have a high school center with agricultural training in their town because the field is the future.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (2) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Harvesting ingredients for chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa)

Although the chile en nogada (chili in walnut salsa) is appreciated in the city of Puebla and has begun to be popular in other cities and states that did not have it on their menu thanks to the increase in the media coverage of the cooking in the last decade, in Calpan it is not eaten regularly, although it is a tourist attraction since a fair is held and it is one of the ways to earn a living.

Here we can see a manzana panochera (panochera apple) tree, essential in the chili filling. Each tree can last from about 100 to 120 years, depending on the care given, says Pascual. They bear fruit on the four or five planted trees and each apple gives four to six 5-gallon tubs.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (3) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

One of the problems they face with Creole apples is hail that can affect their appearance. For that reason, there are sites that no longer buy it.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (5) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The walnut with which the chili salsa is made is ready to be sold when it has a slice in the center. It is removed from the tree, it is peeled with a knife (and pulled to the ground to be reintegrated into the soil as compost), a white membrane is removed and then repeeled for cleaning.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (6) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Thirty years ago the cold season began changing, so the peasants had to take the walnut crop to cooler climates.

The taste of the walnut is herbal and sweet. Pascual adds that this type of walnut blooms in March and the fruit sets in six months. A long-lived tree can give up to 1,500 nuts each season.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (8) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The fruit fly is one of the threats of this type of nut. They can sell it by piece or percent, whole or clean (the latter raises the price by 70%).

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (9) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Another important ingredient for the filling is peach. Cecilio explains that Creole peaches are known to be ready "when they fall off they're good." This variety is sweeter than others and its external color sometimes does not match the inside, which is of intense orange.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (10) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Two to three tons of peaches are obtained on half a hectare. The tree must be six years old to be productive and he has trees from five to 20, which are on the hillside.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (11) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Another fruit that makes up the chili's filling is the leche or pera lechera (lechera pear), so called for its juiciness and fleshy consistency. From each large tree you get up to 10 boxes of approximately 44 pounds each season, Freddy explains. 

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (13) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Harvesting of this pear starts in mid-July and lasts about a month and a half. The pest that most affects it is a so-called "fire blight" that dries the buds where the fruit will grow and for this they must apply bactericide.

The first cuts always get the biggest fruits and there is another harvest in September. In this area there are pear trees that are up to 90 years old.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (14) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The chili harvest

Daily in this region, the Puebla chilis are eaten stuffed with cheese or scrambled with egg, cooked with onion and garlic, or roasted with salt. The apple and the stuffed peach are prepared in syrup, sweets, sponge cakes and direct from the tree. Pascual says that chili loco, a local variety, is even more common than the one from Puebla in his town. 

This is more spicy and thinner, similar to a chilaca chili. "It's eaten here a lot: 21 of chili loco plants were planted to maintain the spiciness and flavor we want."

Pascual gives advice to detect what is not Chinese chili: the ones from Puebla are dark and bright green; the Chinese ones are of a more subdued green. Freddy, for his part, explains that each plant can give between 15 to 16 pounds during the season and its cycle is 90 days.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (15) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

One of problems of growing the ingredients for chile en nogada is that there is theft—some 30% of the harvest. And also spectulation that results in intermediaries trying to buy at the cheapest cost (up to 50% or less at the direct purchase time).

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (16) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The benefits of the harvest

The farmer's garden provides not only individual but social benefits, as it allows the reduction of CO2, one of the main causes of the greenhouse effect caused by climate change, in addition to the conservation of the bio-cultural environment.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan (17) by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

The use of organic fertilizers and pruning are some of their good agricultural practices. That is why farmers prefer a better taste than uniformity or large sizes.

Agricultores de San Andrés Calpan by Mariana Castillo HernándezCocina Cinco Fuegos

Paying a fair price and without haggling with the farmers of San Andrés Calpan is an act of love and dignity to the earth. "Since the sun rises until the cricket sings" is a common phrase they say and it is that the days on the plots are constant. What really shines and preserves the everyday heritage are their hands and frank stories of those who bring quality, taste and health to the tables.

Credits: Story

Curator:
Mariana Castillo Hernández 
@marviajaycome 

Photographer:
Mariana Castillo Hernández 
@marviajaycome

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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