“Let’s Drink an Horchata de Chufas!”
THIS invitation very probably is not familiar to you. But if you happen to live in Spain, and especially on its eastern seaboard, it certainly is. Throughout the year, but above all during the hot summer days, multitudes enjoy this sweet, yet refreshing, nonalcoholic beverage, the unique horchata de chufas!
Even many Spaniards will be surprised to learn that horchata can be made from almonds and the seeds of pumpkins or melons, as well as from rice, apricots, apples, cherries, currants, verjuice grapes, mulberries, plums, and licorice. Nevertheless, Spaniards usually think of chufas as being the basic ingredient of the drink.
But what are chufas? They are earth, or ground, almonds or rush nuts, and the term applies specifically to each of the small underground nutlike tubers produced by the European sedge plant (Cyperus esculentus). They are found about two to three inches [5-8 cm] below the surface of the ground. The sedge plant is cultivated from July to October not just in Spain but also in the Middle East and in North Africa. From there the Arabs brought it to Spain. Although it was first planted in the south of the country, there is no place as well suited for its cultivation as the irrigated fields of Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, where it is raised in great quantities.
How do we prepare horchata? The chufas are soaked for several hours, with each horchata maker having his own opinion as to the precise duration. This causes the chufas to swell up, since they absorb a large amount of water. Now is the time to crush them, while more water is added. Once the crushing is done, the pulpy mass is deposited in a receptacle and mixed well, and after allowing it to sit for some 15 minutes, it is passed through a press so as to separate the syrup from the pulp. Later on, the syrup is filtered, and sugar is added (approximately one pound [kilogram] for each pound [kilogram] of dry chufas).
Some also add cinnamon, grated lemon peel, or maybe even some orange-blossom water. Once the drink is prepared, it has to be preserved immediately by refrigeration, but in no case longer than 48 hours; otherwise the enzymes of the chufas will soon take action and change the flavor. If you want to enjoy it as a liquid, it should be refrigerated at 37 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit [3-4° C.]; and if an iced drink is preferred, it should be kept at approximately 30 degrees Fahrenheit [-1° C.].
Horchata de chufas is a refreshing, sweet, nutritious drink. Therefore, if you ever have opportunity to visit Spain’s eastern seaboard, accept the invitation, “Let’s drink an horchata de chufas!”—Contributed.