Since our first visit to Pátzcuaro, in 1991, we have become fond of Atole de Grano. To me, it represents the quintessence of simple Michoacán cooking.
Late one peaceful and quiet night, we were sitting in the Plaza Grande contemplating the past events of the day; just a couple of guys, an atole vendedora and us.
With little idea of what it was, we ordered two bowls. The cheap pottery bowls held a hot broth of corn kernels, slightly thickened with masa and subtly flavored with anise. We were offered minced chiles and a cut limes to season the soup. An “elotito” or cob-ette of corn was included at no extra cost.
That was the last time we saw that señora, but in later years we found the two sisters-in-law who have side-by-side stands on the corner of Plaza Chica and Calle Iturbe. They appear about 4 p.m. and stay until about 10. The price has risen a lot since that first taste, but it’s still affordable, now at $14 MXN, about $1.10 USD.
Recently, our amiga, María de La Luz Barriga (The same María of “El Tejabán de María”) invited us to participate in the cooking of a quantity of atole de grano. We would have it after the dance exercise class which takes place two days a week in her patio.
On Tuesday, we went to the Pátzcuaro mercado, where we bought 9 elotes (ears) of young corn. Really, it wasn’t enough, A minimum of 15, or even 20 would have been right, but we didn’t know that. It is early in the season, and elotes are costly. We bargained price of 3 for $10 MXN.
|María de La Luz Barriga|
In the end, the atole came out well though thin in granos (kernels) but our frend Rosa ate 4 good sized portions, proof that it met the test.
The ladies who sell it on the Plaza Chica cook it in large ollas de barro (clay pots) over lumbres de carbón (charcoal fires) all the while stirring with a long, hand carved wooden cucharón ( large spoon or ladle).
María lacked the cucharón, and we picked one up in the mercado for a mere $15 MXN. The first spoon vendor asked Doña Cuevas for $40 but went down to $35. Híjole.
Doña C. went inside the covered mercado and found a stall where the same size spoon was $15. This supports my theory that the highest priced vegetables and fruits stands tend to be closest to the Plaza Chica, while the cheapest are at the upper end of Calle Libertad, at the west end of the mercado.
Later in the afternoon, we walked to María de La Luz’s casa. We greeted each other with abrazos y besitos. She’d already prepared the anicillo, a small, low frondy green herb with a distinct taste of anise. It had been cleaned, chopped, boiled, infused but not strained.
Instead of a olla de barro, María used a cazo de cobre (copper kettle) on a terracotta colored chimenea, or wood burning stove in one corner of her kitchen. She does have a gas stove, but special traditional foods are best when prepared with traditional implements. (See El Tejabán de María.)
The wood fire was lit under the terracotta colored chimenea.
The water in the cazo came to a boil as María and her helper shucked corn. Then 3 were selected to be cut into elotitos and immediately placed in the boiling water; the rest, desgranizados, the grains cut off with a knife, then added to the cazo. Two sliced and seed chiles perón were added to perk up the flavor.
All was left to simmer, with occasional stirring, while the thickener was prepared. A huge lump of masa still fresh from that morning's milling was put into the cubeta (pail) of anicillo infusion, then stirred with the hands.
The next step was to strain the thickener mixture through a finely woven cloth bag, a talego. I believe that it's used in cheese making for draining curds. There's a short video of this below included in the slideshow.