Holiday food traditions are enduring and endearing, wherever we expats find ourselves in the world. The foods we associate with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan follow us as we relocate, and keep the holidays normal and familiar. And boy, do we need a sense of normalcy this year. Here in Mexico, I still make treats at Christmastime that we enjoyed decades ago when we lived in the U.S., but ingedients not found in Mexico (or our little town of Mascota) have been swapped out for close substitutes. Pumpkin pie is now made with calabaza (Mexican winter squash); mincemeat pie filling is homemade, instead of from a Cross and Blackwell jar; and tequila balls, formerly known as rum balls, are moistened with our state of Jalisco’s renown tequila. I think it’s called being flexible, and expats learn to be good at that.
Graham crackers aren’t common in Mexico, if they even exist here at all. But Hony Bran crackers come pretty darn close. After twenty-two years living and cooking in Mexico, the taste of graham crackers has become a distant memory and Hony Bran fills the gap when a graham cracker pie crust is needed. Or tequila balls.
And then we moved to Mascota five years ago and discovered their two CBTa stores, retail outlets for locally made foods, like dairy products of all kinds, preserved fruit, coffee, and cookies galore. I don’t know how cookies came to be a Mascota thing, but locally made galletas (cookies) are in every little store. Galletas de avena y salvado (cookies with oats and wheat bran) are hearty cookies, not too sweet, that just taste like they have to be good for you. They even look healthy. With that kind of reasoning, we have no problem eating a lot of them. CBTa stands for Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico Agropecuario, the name of Mascota’s technical high school that teaches trades. Don’t ask me why the “a” in CBTa is lower-case. Some things we gringos are not meant to know.
So tequila replaced rum, galletas de avena y salvado replaced Hony Bran, which had already replaced graham crackers, and tequila balls became a new Christmas treat in Mexico.
If you are in the U.S. or Canada, use graham crackers (or any other dry cookie). If you are in Mexico, use Hony Bran crackers. If you are my one reader in Mascota (hola, Maria!), use galletas de avena y salvado from the CBTa store.
This recipe was adapted from my tattered Joy of Cooking cookbook for “Rum Drops, Uncooked”. This recipe is so easy, your child or grandchild could help roll the balls. No baking required. Joy instructs us to let the balls ripen for 12 hours, to disperse the alcohol flavor, I guess. But with less than 1/2 teaspoon of tequila per ball, any lingering alcohol taste is not a problem for this alcohol abstainer. I suggest you ignore the final recipe instruction, as I do. It’s Christmas, after all!
And now, the popular request from last week’s post on Star Fruit Upside-down Cake. Well, requested twice. “Would love a pic of your campesino tree”, in reference to our Christmas “tree” that’s really a dried flower stalk from the Blue Agave plant, the agave from which tequila is made. There are no green boughs or pine aroma in our house, but it’s our tree, and seems to have become an annual tradition for us, along with tequila balls. It’s only as I type this that I realize how the request for photos of the tequila Blue Agave “tree” nicely dovetails with the recipe for tequila balls.
The mother agave plant begins to die when it produces the flower stalk. But life continues when seed pods and plantlets fall to the ground. The photo on the right shows both still attached to our tree, adding its own decorations.
Feliz Navidad, dear readers. I appreciate each and every one of you. I wish you good times and good food with your loved ones. Safe holidays!
- 2 cups (7 oz/200 g) graham cracker crumbs (use food processor or rolling pin to crush)
- 1 cup (3.6 oz/104 g) finely chopped walnuts (use food processor, or knife)
- 3/4 cup (2.6 oz/75 g) sifted confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar, or azúcar glass in Mexico)
- 2 tablespoons sifted, unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 (22 ml) tablespoons honey
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml) tequila
- Additional cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar to coat balls
- Thoroughly blend all dry ingredients.
- Warm honey and blend with tequila.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients for an evenly moist consistency. Mixture should clump together when squeezed in your hand.
- Roll into small balls. I formed balls about 20 grams in weight, for a diameter of 1 3/8″ (3.5 cm), but roll whatever seems the right size for you.
- Roll balls in cocoa powder and/or confectioner’s sugar.
- Store in an air-tight container for 12 hours “to ripen”.
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