Summer tastes like paletas. Or paletas taste like summer. It depends upon where you grew up and how you look at things. As the world works, I’m sure they are available across the country, but walk outside any door and onto a street in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or California, and if you stand there long enough (without passing out from the heat), someone will ask you if you’d like a paleta. And the correct answer is yes.
Paletas are extremely frozen popsicles made from fresh fruit and water…sometimes with sugar…but not much more. They are basically frozen agua frescas on a stick, a staple in southern states, and almost always pure and simple magic.
When I was younger, I would bribe my dad to take me to the Sac N Pac at the end of the street where they had a small freezer full of Michoacana paletas. At the time, I imagined the Michoacana company to be the most impressive company in all the land, headquartered in a castle-like Willy Wonka mansion full of magical frozen popsicles and love.
In actuality, it’s a bunch of mom and pop shops, which is of course even better.
Michoacana is a toponym, meaning someone or something from the state of Michoacán in western Mexico. But the name is used in virtually every state of the country, and it is not because it’s a national chain. In one very small town in the Huasteca region of Veracruz, I counted six paleterías named La Michoacana within a three-square-block area.
Read more about this on The Austin Chronicle. It’s a great article.
As an adult, I now bribe myself to go up the street to the Market 150, where they have a small freezer full of my current favorites from Austin-based La Super Michoacana. This is one of the delights of the summer. Walking through a glass door, from epic heat into a boxed room of AC cold that smells like bubble gum, rubber tires and cooler contents. And inside, across the tiled isles, a freezer full of frozen bits of watermelon juice.
As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think that watermelon can be improved upon or even should be attempted to, but considering Michoacana paletas, I was willing to look into Salted Watermelon ice cream.
Lick ice cream in Austin has featured a version of this. And I found this great no-churn recipe, but I want to make some in my ice cream maker that only includes the following ingredients: watermelon, cream/milk, sugar, mint and salt. I attempted some before I left for the beach, but I wasn’t able to execute it in a way that I’m happy about…let’s just say a little mint goes a long way. Ironically, an attempt to use the fewest and simplest ingredients sometimes becomes the most challenging, until you get it right. In the meantime, this watermelon ice cream recipe is pretty good. If I can create what I have in mind, and get the consistency and flavor right, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, here are a few hacks.
Enter Topo Chico. Make your favorite version of watermelon ice cream, add Topo Chico with Lime and some fresh mint…
…And you have an Agua Fresca Salted Watermelon Ice Cream float. Whoa. Good. Or, look what I found here…
This watermelon soda tastes like the 70s. This is possibly because it’s made up of very seventiesesque ingredients… no high-fructose anything… just carbonated water, pure cane sugar, a preservative, natural and artificial flavors and the dreaded Red 40. That’s really it, and if you can handle some artificial, I highly recommend picking these up.
If you’re in Texas, any H.E.B. grocery store has them right now. If you live elsewhere, you can probably find something similar in a spot near you. These old school bad boys taste like the 1980s watermelon Jolly Rancher sticks we used to hide under our pillows at summer camp, only in a fizzy water format. Add some vanilla ice cream, some mint, and a little rum for the adults, and you’ve got yourself a sample of frozen summer in a glass.
You won’t be disappointed.
The end of summer typically brings a heat wave of slight nostalgia for me. An attempt to recreate childhood summer vacations, flavors of August and lazy summer days. As is often the case, the less we try the easier it comes. The less ingredients the better. Paletas de sandia and watermelon frozen treats do the trick for me.