There have been years, like the ones when we had our restaurant in Provincetown, when I did not think a lot about the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where I grew up. But the Valley — a string of communities along the Mexican border (and, by the way, no one never called it “the Southern border”) has been much on my mind lately.
I worry. Those towns are struggling hard through this pandemic. And the administration persists in its efforts to build a so-called wall that will threaten both privately owned land and fragile ecosystems along the river, including some of the most important flyways for migratory birds in the Americas.
There were some delicious things about growing up in the Rio Grande Valley. When I was in high school in Roma, Texas, in the (very) late 1970s, we always looked forward to the end of summer for a break in the heat. And right about this time of year, we could begin to anticipate the citrus season. The fruit reaches peak ripeness from October into the cooler months to year’s end.
While oranges were the main crop, it was the luscious Ruby Red and Star Ruby grapefruit that we looked forward to most. These sweet-tart beauties bore little resemblance to the yellow-fleshed variety that was more common in those days. My father would come home with a sack of grapefruit freshly picked from orchards just a few miles away. It was wonderful sliced for breakfast or just peeled and eaten over the kitchen sink, the same way New Englanders eat peaches in summer.
The freshly squeezed juice had a more exalted use, though, as a base for cocktails. My Greatest Generation parents were Scotch drinkers, as a rule, but they celebrated the grapefruit season by mixing the juice with a good-quality tequila and finishing their drinks with a squeeze of juice from local key limes. Call it a border variation of the vodka-based Greyhound or, if you salted the rim, the Salty Dog.
The Paloma is a refined version of their grapefruit-tequila-lime cocktail. The name means “dove” in Spanish. And since that’s one of the bird species threatened by the border wall, and because Sept. 16 happens to be Independence Day in Mexico, the country of origin for most of the people who live in the Rio Grande Valley, I’d like to propose a toast.
To the resilience of Valleyites of all stripes, to my cousins and friends, to the citrus groves that have escaped development, to Mexico … salud!
makes one cocktail
Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice is really the best for this drink. So is tequila reposada, as it is slightly aged, with a deeper flavor than white tequila. I like Sauza.
2 oz. Ruby Red grapefruit juice
2 oz. good-quality tequila reposada
1 tsp. simple syrup
2 oz. seltzer
1 lime wedge
for garnishing the rim of the glass:
Ancho chili powder
Put salt and chili powder on a small plate. Rub the rim of a glass tumbler — maybe you even have a blue-rimmed glass from Mexico — with a lime wedge, then dip the glass into the seasoned salt to coat the rim.
Fill a small cocktail shaker with ice and remaining ingredients, except the lime wedge. Shake vigorously and pour the cocktail and ice into the glass.
Squeeze the lime wedge into the drink and add it to the glass.