Rancho El Limón

Rancho El Limón, forty-five minutes out of Puerto Vallarta toward the Sierra Madre Mountains in the state of Jalisco, is a real, honest-to-goodness organic farm. Every Sunday, Alison brings the ranch’es bounty of cherry tomatoes, mixed salad greens, fennel, arugula, freshly laid eggs, and sometimes a giant Mexican squash or watermelon, to the market at the La Cruz Marina.

Since the Sunday Market began, Alison and her table of organic harvest are all we have known about Rancho El Limón, so Russ and I jumped at an opportunity to visit the ranch when we were invited to an open house. It was a chance for a number of us who participate in the market to tour the ranch, meet Alison’s partner, Manuel de Jesús, and learn about the other side of Rancho El Limón, the Pura Vida Spa.

The day was one of those bright, sunny Mexican days, when the sun seems too bright, the sky almost too brilliant. Alison and Manuel had a lunch ready for us under the cool shade of mango trees, featuring — what else — a huge salad of homegrown ingredients, with local fresh cheeses and corn tortillas. We would have expected nothing less. Even the salad dressing of pureed tomatoes came from the land.

Alison was formerly involved in a venture that sold chimeneas made to her specifications. This interesting stove, made of fired, glazed clay, comes with racks for cooking over the chimney, and that is exactly how the tortillas served with lunch were heated over a fire of mango wood. This type of stove, in one form or another, is found all over the world, and Mexico has a long tradition of relying on chimineas for heating and cooking. This one was a beauty in form and function.

A large, clay horno, or oven, was just outside the kitchen. It had recently been used to cook pizzas, but they were not on the menu today. Hornos, made of adobe clay, also have a long history in Mexico, and are seen in backyards throughout the countryside.

After lunch, we were taken on a tour of the house, with its spacious dining room, well-appointed guest rooms, and breezy walkways. Manuel has owned the ranch house and its thirty hectares of farm land for over twenty years. The house has a comfortable, welcoming feel, perfect for an afternoon with friends.

This was when we learned about the other business side to Rancho El Limón, known as Pura Vida Spa. Winter visitors and busy Puerto Vallartans can spend a few days enjoying the treatments for body and soul, with massage, steam baths, stretching exercise, and other activities that sooth and relax.

The highlight for me, beside the organic lunch, great ranch house, hospitable hosts, pleasant companions, and shady garden setting — in short, everything — was the tour of the greenhouse, the source of our weekly, organic salad fixings. Rancho El Limón produces its own compost and worm castings for pesticide- and chemical-free produce.

The afternoon ended with a walk to the calm Rio Ameca, a far cry from the raging river it can become during the summer rainy season. Sculpted ficus trees and wild flowers lined the walk. The dogs romped. A perfect afternoon.

Alison is at the Sunday Market at the La Cruz Marina, and can tell you more about Rancho El Limón, its organic produce and spa activities. As long as you are there, buy some salad greens and cherry tomatoes. Her tomatoes are as sweet as candy.

Alison is also at the Sayulita market every Friday from 10 am until 2 pm until May 13. She is organizing a summer market at the Bucerias Bilingual Community Center that will begin Saturday May 7, also 10 am until 2 pm. The BBCC is two blocks behind Carnes del Mundo on Calle 16 de Septiembre, #48.

Rancho El Limón has a web page with more information and photos. It is between Ixtapa and Las Palmas, but don’t try to find it by yourself — the maze of ranch roads are tricky to negotiate.  Alison can provide detailed directions if you want to visit.

Rancho el Limón
Las Palmas, Jalisco
044 322 110 1689 English
044 322 174 8986 español
From within USA/Cananda 858 736 9004
email: info@rancholimon.com,  rancholimon@gmail.com

Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake

A wheeled cornucopia goes down our street every day, with vendors selling everything ripe and local out of the backs of their trucks. In the summer, I can step out of the gate and buy mangoes by the kilo. Until then, I have to walk a block to the nearest store for mangoes coming from further south.

Until we moved to Mexico, I never knew the aroma and taste of mangoes picked ripe and juicy. And the variety! The common Tommy Atkins, known familiarly as “Tommy” in Mexico, the luscious Ataulfo, also called the Champagne mango, the large, firm Haden, the Keitt, still green when ripe, and the Kent mango, almost fiberless. These are the common mangoes of Mexico, exported by the ton, maybe coming this summer to a supermarket near you. When you find some, eat them raw and fresh, standing over the sink — or better yet, in the surf — so as not to drip the staining juices on your shirt. If there are any left over, make Mango Coconut Tres Leches Cake.

Tres Leches cakes are the cake of Mexico. Probably of European origin, this cake is known for its high moisture level, due to its saturation with three milks — condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream. Some think it is too wet. Well, that is part of its charm. If it wasn’t wet, it wouldn’t be a tres leches cake, just another white frosted cake. My cakes are hardly ever white, nor are they overly sweet. As in many of my baking recipes, this one has whole wheat flour and decreased sugar. It also has coconut oil instead of butter and coconut milk instead of dairy milk. The inspiration came from a recent recipe in the New York Times for Mango Tres Leches Cake. Its addition of Spanish brandy is a touch of genius.

This was one of those rare times when I actually had an uncommon ingredient on hand, thanks to Costco. If you don’t have Spanish brandy, cognac is fine. If you don’t have cognac, the cake will still be very good.


Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake

  • 1  1/2 cups (6.5 oz./185 grams) sifted whole wheat flour*
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz./100 grams) plus 1/4 cup (1.75 oz./50 grams) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 grams) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3.5 grams) salt
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 5 tablespoons ( 2.25 oz./63 grams) melted coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) coconut milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups (17 oz./240 grams) cubed mango
  • 2 cups (473 ml.) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz./397 grams) condensed sweetened milk
  • 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60ml.) Spanish brandy or cognac (optional)
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) very cold heavy cream (called crema para batir in Mexico)
  1. Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch (23 cm. x 33 cm.) baking pan; heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.).
  2. In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar.
  3. In a large bowl, stir together egg yolks, melted coconut oil, 3 tablespoons coconut milk and vanilla.
  4. Beat egg whites until frothy, add cream of tartar. Before peaks form, add 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until slightly stiff.
  5. Whisk half of flour mixture into yolk mixture. Whisk in 1/4 egg whites. Carefully fold in another 1/4 egg whites with a large spatula or balloon whisk.
  6. Sift half of remaining flour mixture into batter, and fold in. Fold in 1/4 egg whites. Fold in remaining flour mixture. Fold in remaining egg white. Do not over-mix.
  7. Spoon batter into prepared pan, smooth top,  and bake 25 minutes, or until center tests dry with a wooden toothpick. Cool on a rack.
  8. In a small pan, heat coconut milk, condensed milk and brandy until hot. Pour over cake. Cover and chill cake for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  9. Puree mango in a food processor until smooth. Add additional sugar to taste if the mango is not sweet.
  10. At serving time, whip cream until stiff. Fold in half of mango puree.  Spread mango cream over the cake. Spoon remaining puree on top and swirl into whipped cream with a spatula.


~  * After sifting, you should have 1 1/2 cups of flour; save bran for muffins or bread.

~ When whipping cream, especially in the summertime, use very cold cream, and pre-chill the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer. This will prevent you from unexpectedly making butter instead.

~ Use organic ingredients when possible. This minimizes our exposure to pesticides and herbicides, as well as lessening contamination in water and soil. The Coconut Mango Tres Leches Cake was made with organic coconut milk, organic coconut oil, organic sugar, eggs from free-range chickens and locally grown, unsprayed mangoes.


Empanadas de Atun ~ Tuna Empanadas

Our first empanadas de atun left a big impression. Who would have thought of combining tuna and canned peas in a Lenten empananda? But it was so good, we would look for tuna empanadas again and again in panaderías during Cuaresma (Lent). Repeating that empanada taste proved illusive, like a childhood memory of a favorite food or place that doesn’t measure up when experienced again years later. We thought we remembered a distinct tuna flavor that blended together in a moist, generous filling, encased in crispy dough. What we found, again and again, was a doughy pocket with such a small smear of tuna, it was not worth the few pesos it cost.

Walmart’s empanadas de atun were especially dismal. All dough, with an orange smear inside that was so miserly, there could not possibly be any flavor of tuna, no matter how hard my taste buds tried. Mega Comercial’s empanadas were better, with more filling, but still shy on the tuna. Look at all that flaky pastry and healthy veggies in their empanada (below). Beautiful empanadas, but little tuna. As this quest was getting us nowhere, I knew it was time to make them myself.

The first time we had empanadas de atun, they were made with only canned tuna, canned peas, and a bit of chile. I stayed true to the original recipe, more or less, but the addition of corn and carrots in Mega’s makes a colorful filling. More veggies means less tuna and there is only so much you can fit into a small pocket of dough. And I was after the tuna taste.

Super Mario, our great yard guy and general handyman, was here today replacing a toilet. (Can you write about toilets in a food blog ?) When we heard the first flush, we knew we were back in business. The least we could do was give him a cold Pacifico and a few warm empanadas. I must have done something right, because he took one home to his wife, saying he wanted her taste it.

Muy Bueno Cookbook inspired the empanada dough recipe, though I used whole wheat flour, and extra baking powder to lighten the dough, which was surprisingly light and easy to handle, given its whole wheat-ness.

Empanadas de Atun ~ Tuna Empanadas makes 14-15 empanadas


  • 3 cups (13.5 oz./383 g.) cold whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz./115 g.) cold butter
  • 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz/63 ml.) cold milk
  • 2 cold eggs plus 1 beaten egg to brush on empanadas
  1. Mix flour, baking soda and salt in a food processor, pulsing 3 or 4 times.
  2. Add butter and process for 10-15 seconds, or until butter is cut into very small pieces, but still visible.
  3. Add milk and 2 eggs and process just until a ball of dough forms. Do not over-mix.
  4. Handling as little as possible, roll into a ball and divide into two pieces. Refrigerate while mixing tuna filling.

Tuna Filling

  • 7 oz. ( 200 grams) drained canned tuna
  • 2/3 cup (129 g. can) drained canned peas
  • juice of 1/2 small lime
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 ml.) drained, home made cooked salsa

Lightly blend all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 C.) Oil large baking sheet.
  2. Roll out one ball of dough on a floured surface to 1/8″ (.32 cm.) thick.
  3. Use a 5″ (12.7 cm.) round shape as a cutter and cut out circles from rolled dough, then do the same with the second ball of dough. Roll out scraps and cut more rounds of dough.
  4. Spoon one heaped tablespoon of tuna filling on one half of dough circle.
  5. Overlap dough, forming a half circle.
  6. Moisten lower edge of dough with water.
  7. Press with a fork to seal edges. Place on baking sheet.
  8. Brush empanadas with beaten egg.
  9. Pierce crust with a fork to allow steam to vent.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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