Love Fresh Produce?

Margaret Hefner

Mazatlán is blessed with a cornucopia of fresh locally grown vegetables and fruits, as well as those that arrive here from the interior of the country. Yet the large variety astounds those of us who haven’t grown up here; when we walk through the market or past a street vendor there is so much produce that is new and unfamiliar.

Now there is an interactive book—Frutas y Verduras: A Fresh Food Lover’s Guide to Mexico—that you can download to your phone, tablet or PC to help us learn the name of the item as well as hear an audio recording of its pronunciation in Spanish! You can click to get information on its nutritional composition, tips for storing it most effectively, and chef-created recipes for using that ingredient. What a godsend for anyone not familiar with indigenous Mexican produce!

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The “enhanced e-book” is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s basically a website in e-book format: clicking on a photo, icon or link opens up further information. I learned that you can make pastry dough from cassava (yuca), that taro (malanga) improves digestion and gives you energy, and got a great recipe for prickly pear (tuna) syrup. It can be downloaded to your device from Apple (iBooks) or Kobo; because Kindle doesn’t allow such functionality, the book is not available there.

The volume is authored by Margaret Hefner, a Canadian chef living in Mexico City. When I recently spoke with her about Frutas y Verduras, I imagined we’d be talking about the book and her passion for the food. She surprised me, however, by spending most of our interview talking about her passion for the indigenous growers of Mexico. She has been moved to action in an incredibly heartfelt way by the fact that these farmers are way too often the voiceless in Mexican society, despite the fact that they are the custodians of ancestral knowledge regarding their plants and the medicinal value they contain. She wanted to do something to show her respect and appreciation for the campesinos whose stewardship has made Mexico a world heritage cuisine.

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Photo from Margaret Hefner

Margaret, who was neither an author, publisher or programmer before this project, spent over two years researching, collaborating (with other chefs, UNAM professors, the Herdéz Museum) and experimenting to produce the content for the book. She travelled throughout the central portion of the country as well as to Yucatán, Oaxaca and Chiapas. While every region of Mexico is included in her book, her budget did not allow her to make it to the west coast. Margaret found Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s “Larousse Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana” very helpful; she hired a nutritionist in Guatemala to calculate of the nutritional values for each entry. Finally, Margaret spent six months glued to her computer screen programming the book’s interactivity.

The result is an absolutely beautiful and highly practical volume that I am delighted to own. Her goal? That more of us will buy local, from the growers, supporting family farms. She told me she believes many people are uncomfortable speaking to a vendor sitting on the ground; they may feel it uncomfortable, too hierarchical. Yet buying ten pesos worth of produce from that woman could make the difference in whether her children have books or shoes.

Margaret first fell in love with Mexican produce when she worked as a personal chef for an expat family living in San Miguel de Allende. She was used to only having imported produce over the snowy Canadian winters; the year-round fresh food here “blew her mind.” She loved throwing cocktail parties in which every canapé used a different indigenous ingredient in a surprising way. Her book contains multiple photos, indigenous names, and helpful information on over 60 of the hundreds of indigenous fruits and vegetables that exist in Mexico.

During her time in SMA she learned that the ingredients she had grown to love were often associated with the poor; that they had long been out of style and have only regained popularity in the past five years or so thanks to a few celebrity chefs.

Frutas y Verduras has a Facebook page where Margaret encourages people to upload photos of the fruits and vegetables they find throughout Mexico, in order to keep building the information depository. In this way, she hopes also to include more of the indigenous produce of Sinaloa and other regions where she was unable to travel. Margaret is offering a 30% discount to our readers through the month of January 2018. Just go to Kobo, https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/frutas-y-verduras-1 and enter the code FYVmaz when you check out. You can also choose your own price here: http://fyvmexico.com/fyv-book-pwyw/