FRUIT IS ART. I don’t mean an oil canvas of a bowl of oranges, or a black and white photograph of grapes in a vineyard. I mean, fruit. A simple bowl of fresh green limes and bright yellow lemons, clusters of deep red cherries punctuated by light green stems, and shiny piles of apples. My personal favorite is a pineapple. There are days when I am not in the mood to eat pineapple — perhaps, as is all too often the case, I’ve recently eaten too much of it and my mouth still aches with the tart memory — but I still end up buying one just to place the beautiful, tropical piece of art on the counter above my sink until I give in and slice it up and eat too much of it once more.
Vegetables have featured prominently here at PBK to date (they are oh-so-photogenic, after all), but both vetegables and fruit had (and still have) a strong place in my mother’s kitchen. The crisper was always filled with fresh produce from the garden or store or farmer’s market, and a beautiful tiered basket displays to this day apples, bananas and peaches. It was always there, right in front of us, always accessible. Growing up, the fruit was like the proverbial girl or boy next door: you never want the good-for-you, heart-healthy option. Instead, you dream of breaded potato wedges dipped in thick ranch dressing at the nearby market where you got a 32 ounce soda for fifty cents if you said hello to the owner, Rob. (He was always there, always at the register, and always said hello first.)
Despite our childish tendencies, my brother and I grew up eating a lot of fruit. Cantaloupe was always one of my favorites, and remains at or near the top of my all-time fruit list. When I discovered amazing cantaloupe-based melon agua frescas sold at a hole-in-the-wall taqueria near M.’s old apartment, I knew it would be a project.
First I tried Bon Appetit’s cantaloupe basil agua fresca, but the basil added too much of a different flavor. I wanted that fresh cantaloupe taste, not an herb that detracted from it. So I began experimenting with basic agua fresca components: cantaloupe, lime, water, sugar, ice. And somewhere along the way, trying to emulate the taqueria’s aqua fresca turned into “ooh, let’s make it a margarita!”
If I had to choose a single word to describe the first batch, it wouldn’t be a word at all. It would be the face I made when I tasted it and all my tongue registered was the bite of liquor. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking about the subtleties of cantaloupe flavoring and I forgot the true value of a shot of tequila. And yet, mistakes beget invention. It was in attempting to remedy the “I only taste tequila” problem that the two-step combination was born: first, the liquor is mixed with more concentrated cantaloupe juice and put on ice. Then, a more diluted cantaloupe mixture with sugar and lime and ice water is mixed into the I’m-gonna-need-to-see-some-ID batch to produce a lovely summer drink.
A word of warning: this isn’t a college margarita. It doesn’t put on strappy sandals and a low-cut top and stay out until four AM. It’s a low-key, fresh mix that sits on the porch on a warm afternoon and watches the shadows stretch across the land.
CANTALOUPE MARGARITAS, a PBK original
2 ripe cantaloupes, cored and chopped sans rind, divided
3 ounces tequila (2 shots)
1.5 ounces triple sec (1 shot)
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons lime juice, divided
3 cups cold water
1 1/2 cups ice
Place one cantaloupe’s worth of chopped cantaloupe in a blender. Liquefy (or blend a lot if you don’t have a snazzy liquefy setting). Pour through a fine strainer into a bowl. Discard remaining solids (there shouldn’t be many if you blended enough).
Add tequila, triple sec, and 2 teaspoons lime juice; mix. Add 1 1/2 cups of ice.
Clean strainer of all solids.
Place remaining chopped cantaloupe in blender. Add 1 1/2 cups cold water, remaining 1 teaspoon lime juice, and sugar. Blend/liquefy. Pour through strainer into a bowl, discard solids.
Combine iced tequila mixture and diluted cantaloupe sugar mixture. Rim glasses with a small amount of salt (any more overpowers the cantaloupe). Ladle mixture into glasses, add extra ice if needed, and enjoy.