Jucho: a Carnival tradition
From January to March, we harvest the black cherry or “capulí” in Ecuador (known as “capulín” in other countries), whose peak month usually is February. That is why the capulí is associated with Carnival. Therefore, from many generations, mostly in the province of Pichincha, people have prepared a drink called jucho. Jucho is usually served warm, but many prefer it cold. The drink consists of several fruits, spices, aromatic herbs and barley, though some people only add corn flour to thicken the beverage. Of course, the main ingredient is the black cherry, along with peaches and quinces, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and lemon verbena. First, you let the spices cook for about 20 minutes, then you add the peaches and quinces and let it simmer until the fruit becomes very soft, almost detaching from the seed. You throw in the barley or corn flour to add consistency, plus sugar to taste. The cherries or capulíes are added in the end and it is cooked until the skin almost comes off. Serve and enjoy!
Check out our video of the cooking class we did with our friend and Chef Francisco Larco from Galería Café Restaurante.
Did you know?
The black cherry (Prunus salicifolia) grows from Mexico to Bolivia, but it is unknown in the east of South America. Its origin is believed to be Mexico or Guatemala; however, other researchers bet on an Andean origin, specifically equatorial, as per archaeological, linguistic and ethnohistorical studies. It is possible that domestication resulted in two different fruits of the same species. The capulí could have reached Ecuador in the pre-Inca period through the existing trade with Mesoamerica. It could also be the other way around, that is, Andean people could have introduced this fruit to Mesoamerican territory. In any case, until this day the capulí is part of the culinary tradition of Ecuador.
A love story
My mother was a fan of capulí. Whenever it was in season, she would buy a whole basket. She mostly ate it fresh, though sometimes she would make marmalade. One day, back in 2001, I told my mom that I wanted to participate in a short story contest at school.
While eating the capulíes, she said: “Write about how the capulí tree was created.”
Confused, I asked: “What do you mean? How it was introduced to Ecuador?”
“No. Make up a story about how the tree was born. A love story. People like legends and love stories. I believe capulí is a local fruit, but even if it isn’t, you can make it ours.”
“All right. So two people that love each other have a capulí baby…?
“You’ll figure it out.”
And I did. This story actually got me First Prize in an international school contest. For those that speak Spanish and care to read my legend about this delicious fruit, please click here.