Mexican tejocotes: more than just an ingredient in Christmas fruit punch

29/11/2020

In this Christmas season, one of the typical drinks we consume is punch, which contains a large amount of fruit, but sometimes one of them - tejocotes - goes unnoticed. But it is worth mentioning, not only because of the characteristic flavor it gives to this drink, but also because of other special aspects as part of the Mexican culture and its biology.

The tejocote fruit has been used since pre-Hispanic times by different indigenous groups of the central region of Mexico, who first collected its fruits and later planted the trees in their gardens to facilitate its use. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the tejocote fruit began to be selected and planted in productive gardens with the purpose of improving its flavor and increasing its size, an activity that continues to this day.

The word "Tejocote" derives from the Nahuatl word "Texocotl" which means "hard, acidic fruit". Currently, the tejocote is still strongly linked to traditional Mexican culture and is used in the festivities of the Day of the Dead to decorate the altars, and at Christmas as one of the main ingredients of punch, to fill piñatas and snacks.

Also, tejocote fruit is used in the elaboration of liquors and typical sweets such as ates and preserves. The fruits of tejocote are rich in vitamin A, C, minerals, flavonoids, as well as other nutrients. Due to their high pectin content, they are appreciated in the pharmaceutical industry for the elaboration of creams.

The scientific name of the Tejocote is Crataegus Mexicana, and although this species of tejocote is the best known and widely distributed in Mexico, it is not the only one that inhabits Mexico

Mexico has 16 species of tejocotes. Most of these species inhabit the mountainous areas of the Sierra Madre Oriental in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Puebla and Veracruz. 

Eight of these species (Crataegus aurescens, C. baroussana, C. cuprina, C. gracilior, C. johnstonii, C. rosei and C. serratissima) are endemic to Mexico, that is, they do not inhabit any other region of the world, as well as C. rosei var. amoena a species recently considered new to science, and whose populations are integrated by very few individuals, which makes it highly vulnerable if its natural habitat is affected.

In addition to the historical and cultural importance of the Tejocotes in Mexico, their fruits play a relevant role ecologically due to the interaction they have with their natural herbivore, the fruit fly (Rhagoletis pomonella) which depends completely on the fruits of the tejocote for the development of its larvae.

From an anthropocentric perspective, this relationship has been considered a problem, because a few decades ago populations of flies that gradually migrated from Mexico to the United States began to colonize apple plantations (Malus pumilla) that were introduced to America between 1500 and 1800.

This colonization event, that is, the change from hawthorns to apples, brought about the emergence of a different "race" of flies in the East of the United States, which is why this system represents for biologists one of the best examples of the generation of new species through what is known as sympatric speciation.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that, although the tejocote plants are rarely used for ornamental purposes, the wild species stand out for the beauty of their flowers and the great diversity of shapes and colors of their fruits that range from green, pale yellow, orange, pink, to intense red.

Appreciating and knowing more about the cultural, nutritional, and ecological aspects of the native Crataegus of Mexico will allow us to take care of and maintain our tejocotes, a 100% Mexican fruit that gives flavor and joy to this Christmas season.

Applications of tejocotes

It is considered a melliferous species. The wood of tejocotes is very hard and compact, it is used as firewood and for the elaboration of tool handles. The fruits of tejocotes are edible, they are eaten raw or prepared in jams and marmalades. One of the characteristics of the fruit is its high pectin content, which is used in the pharmaceutical, textile, and steel industries, for the production of cosmetics and as a coagulant for jams and jellies; it is also used as fodder for pigs, sheep, rabbits, and goats.

Tejocote has medicinal uses, the root is used against diarrhea, and as a diuretic, the fruit is used to treat coughs, chest congestion, and heart conditions. Single units are used as a rootstock for fruit trees such as apple, pear, loquat, peach, and quince. The fruit tree is also used as a seedling rootstock to graft apple, pear, quince. The cooking of the fruit is used in cases of cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, cold, and lung pain.

As a tonic and for coughs, it is used the cooking of 5 nuts in 1/4 of water, sweetened with honey, for 9 days, 3 times a day. In the case of acute or chronic cough, it is cooked with elderflower, royal itamo, custard apple, or lime peel plus ocote or simply with cinnamon. For pneumonia and asthma, it is cooked with eucalyptus, bougainvillea flower, capulin bark, elderberry, obelisk flower, and mullein. For the kuenesi or the children's chipil, the leaves are cooked with water, sweetened with sugar, and eaten at breakfast. The leaves and the bark in tea are used to fight diarrhea, stomach pain, and to not hurt the courage.

In the case of diarrhea, the tejocote root is cooked, plus three buds of mint in a quarter-liter of water, a red-hot staple is added and it is drunk three times a day. Tea made from hawthorn, along with chamomile and other herbs, is used not only for stomach pain, but also to fight worms and pinworms. For amoebas that cause diarrhea with mucus and blood, a tea made with pieces of root and 4 or 5 fruits in 1/2 liter of water is taken.

The root has anti-diabetic properties, for which it is consumed crushed and soaked in alcohol either alone or together with Istac Tzitzio. Both the root and the bark have diuretic properties. In this case, as well as in kidney diseases, it is taken as water for use, the cooking of 5 g of the root in a quarter of water. The flowers and leaves are hypotensive, cardiotonic, and detoxifying. The stem is used in the construction of tools and utensils, the stem is used as firewood.

Tejocote seeds to be used

The tejocote seeds to be used must come from healthy individuals (free of pests and diseases), vigorous, and with good fruit production. This is to ensure that the plants obtained from these seeds inherit the characteristics of the parents. The germination capacity is 60%. The lethargy is from 2 to 3 years and a minimum stratification is necessary. There is a marked lethargy due to the combination of an impermeable seed cover and conditions of the embryo. It is advisable to remove the endocarp to improve the germination of the seeds. These are harvested in the months of October to December.

The fruits of tejocotes are collected manually, between the months of November and December. The fruit is collected when it presents a reddish-yellow coloration and the seed is obtained after taking advantage of the fruit. There are 6,000 to 7,134 seeds in one kg on average. The tejocote fruit can be collected from the ground or directly from the trees. It is recommended to collect the seed in jute sacks until its place of benefit. It does not require special care.

Seed extraction from the knobs should be as soon as possible to avoid fruit fermentation and damage to the seed. If the fruit has to be stored before the benefit, it is recommended to dry them in thin layers on concrete slabs or in shakers, ventilate them well, and move them frequently. To obtain the seeds from tejocotes it is necessary to macerate the fruits to separate the pericarp from the seed, if they are few to be done by hand, or mechanically when they are many. The recently macerated fruits are made to pass through sieves with openings from greater to lesser until the seed is clean, being able to use water for cleaning.

It is recommended to select the tejocotes seeds manually, the method of floating in water is not convenient because the endocarp of the seeds is very hard and many vain seeds do not float.

The seeds are orthodox, this type of seeds can be stored with humidity contents of 6 to 7% and temperatures ≤ 0°C; such conditions allow maintaining viability for several years. Generally, the orthodox seeds present some kind of rest, in the case of this species the seeds present primary latency of mechanical type, in natural conditions the germination of the seeds is favored by the fire. In order to maintain the viability of the seeds, they are stored with low humidity contents at a temperature of 5°C. Up to 3 years under the conditions described above.

Sowing in early summer provides adequate environmental conditions, with germination occurring in the following spring. Because Crataegus Mexicana develops a long main root, transplanting is only done successfully on young plants. Soak the seeds in water for 3 to 9 days, then dry them out before sowing. Soak the seeds in sulfuric acid for 1 hour, wash and dry the seeds, then keep them at 4°C for 5 months. Apply mechanical abrasion to the endocarp of the seeds to remove it. Stratify the seeds at temperatures of 21 to 27°C for 4 months.

The substrate of the containers should have an adequate consistency to keep the seed in place, the volume should not vary drastically with changes in humidity, medium texture to ensure adequate drainage, and good capacity to retain moisture. Adequate fertility, free of salts, and non-mineralized organic matter. When the substrate is inert, a 55:35:10 mixture of peat, vermiculite, and perlite or agrolite is adequate.

Tejocote plant handling

Black bags of 15 x 20 cm, approximately 2.5 kg. To improve rooting, it is recommended to use a shaded area or a well-shaded greenhouse with a temperature of 17 to 20°C. The attack of a diptera on the ripe fruit is often reported, without being specifically known. Continuous weeding of the corridors and inside the containers containing the plants will avoid problems of competition for light, water, and nutrients; it will also favor health conditions. It is important to be careful with the number of seedlings or stakes that are in the containers, the most recommendable is to maintain only one plant or stake per container, the most vigorous, eliminating the rest. The total time for the production of the species is 5 - 9 months.

Planting should be done when the plant is taller than 30 cm, preferably when the rainy season is well established (June-July). Before planting and when the soil is deep and with slopes less than 25%, a superficial step of dragging should be done in the rainy season, to ensure the survival and development of the plants.

If the soil presents problems of weeds, it is recommended to carry out manual or mechanical weeding depending on the conditions of the soil. If the soil presents slopes greater than 12%, to avoid soil erosion it is recommended to remove vegetation only in the places where the plants will be planted, strips or around the vines. This activity can be done by mowing the vegetation with machetes, or removing it manually.

Subsoiling is applied only when there are hardened layers at a shallow depth, ≤ 15 cm; as long as the land has slopes ≤ 10%. It is recommended to arrange the vines on level curves in a three-roll arrangement. The distance between level curves will depend on the slope of the land and the density of plants to be established. To establish plantations of this species it is recommended to use distances of 6 x 6 m between plants.

The size of the vines will depend on the dimensions of the container that has been used for the production of the plants. This implies that the vines should be made with 3 to 5 units of additional volume to the size of the plant's root ball; however, depending on the conditions of the land the dimensions and type of vines may vary, this depending on the strategies of soil conservation that are desired to employ, the characteristics of the soil, and the climatic conditions.

Choose the most vigorous plants, free of pests and diseases. Although the physical characteristics depend on the species, there are general criteria that indicate good quality plants. The root should occupy at least 50% of the total volume of the container, the basal diameter of the stem should be ≥ 0.25 cm, the total height of the stem no more than 30 cm, and at least ¼ part of the total length of the stem with woody tissue, hardening. It is recommended to apply a saturation watering one day before the transport of the plants.

Tejocotes are susceptible to attack by butterflies, screwworms, leaf miners, mites, spiders, and rust. They suffer damage by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, known as "fire blight", by fungi, Nectria sp., which causes cancer of trunk and branches; Diapothe sp. causes rot of trunk and branches; Gymnosporangium sp. causes rust of the fruit. The insects that attack it are Rhagoletis pomonella, fly whose larva feeds on the fruit; Melanopsis calura escama that sucks the juices of the trunk and branches; Aphis gossypii and A. pomi, are aphids (nymph and adult) that suck the juices of the leaves and sprouts. The "salivazos", Clestoptera sp., and "periquitos", Membracidae family, attack the branches. The mealy bug, Aphis sanguinaria, affects the trunk and branches.

During the first 2 years of having established the tejocotes plantation it is recommended to carry out weeding around the plants, in a radius of 20 cm around the vine, at least once a year; this preferably one or two weeks after the beginning of the rainy season.

Tejocote salad recipe with tangerine vinaigrette

Ingredients for the vinaigrette

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed tangerine juice

1 teaspoon of grated mandarin orange

1 tablespoon of mint leaves, washed and disinfected

1 pinch of ground turmeric and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon of white vinegar

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

For the salad:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

4 cloves of garlic in sheets

½ filleted red onion

12 tejocotes in halves and without bone

1 pinch of salt and ground black pepper

1 tablespoon of sugar

2 cups of baby spinach washed and disinfected

2 cups of baby arugula washed and disinfected

1 tangerine in supreme

Preparation for the vinaigrette:

Blend all the ingredients until an emulsion is obtained. Set aside.

Preparation for the salad:

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sweat the garlic slices for a few seconds without allowing them to change color, add the onion, and immediately integrate the green beans; cook them until they soften. Pour a spoonful of the vinaigrette and sprinkle salt, pepper, and sugar; continue cooking until the liquid evaporates almost completely.

Combine in bowl spinach and arugula along with the cooked tejocotes mixture, add some lines of the vinaigrette and mix with the help of two spoons until integrated. Serve the salad on individual plates and decorate with tangerine supreme.

Tejocotes sauce for meats recipe

Ingredients:

Tejocotes according to the amount of sauce to be prepared

1 natural garlic (or some garlic powder)

1 teaspoon of sugar

2 tangerines

Preparation:

Cook the tejocotes so that they are soft and peel them. Remove the seeds. Remove the juice from the tangerines. Blend the pulp of the greenfinches, together with the garlic, sugar, and the juice of the tangerines, and season to taste. Add to meats such as turkey, chicken, or pork.

Tejocote hot drink recipe

Ingredients:

2 cups of tejocotes without skin or bone and in quarts

2 cups of water

2 tbsp. of icing sugar

70 g of corn dough

2 cups of milk

1 slice of cinnamon

Preparation:

Blend the tejocotes with water, the sugar, and the corn dough, until a homogeneous mixture is obtained. Pour into a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it boils. Lower the fire and cook until the preparation thickens. Add the milk and the cinnamon to the pot, stir well and let it boil for 5 more minutes at low heat, moving occasionally. Serve hot and enjoy.

Traditional tejocote candy recipe

Ingredients:

1 liter of water

1 kilo of tejocotes

500 grams of piloncillo

5 cloves

1 slice of cinnamon

Preparation:

Bring water to a boil and add the green beans. Let it cook until the skin starts to fall off. Remove from water and let cool. Peel the green beans. Strain the water in which the green beans were cooked and pour it into a pot.

Add the green beans, the pestle, the nails, and the cinnamon. Boil and do not stop moving until the pestle dissolves. Cook the green beans until they are soft and their liquid has a viscous consistency, that is, that of a syrup.