Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/352

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344
TRAVELS IN MEXICO.

operation, the leaves on one side are cut off, so as to admit a free approach. An Indian then inserts a long gourd (called acojoté), the thinner end of which is terminated by a horn, while at the opposite extremity a square hole is left, to which he applies his lips, and extracts the sap by suction. This sap, before it ferments, is called aguamiel (honey-water), and merits the appellation, as it is extremely sweet, and does not possess that disagreeable smell which is afterwards so offensive. A small portion of this aguamiel is transferred from the plant to a building prepared for the purpose, where it is allowed to ferment for ten or fifteen days, when it becomes what is termed madre pulque (the mother of pulque), which is distributed in very small quantities amongst the different skins or troughs intended for the reception of the aguamiel. Upon this it acts as a sort of leaven, fermentation is excited instantly, and in twenty-four hours it becomes pulque, in the very best state for drinking. The quantity drawn off each day is replaced by a fresh supply of aguamiel, so that the process may continue during the whole year without interruption, and is limited only by the extent of the plantation. A good maguey yields from eight to fifteen cuartillos, or pints, of aguamiel in a day, the value of which may be taken at about one real, and this supply of sap continues during two, and often three months. The plant, when about to flower, is worth ten dollars to the farmer; although, in the transfer of an estate, the magueys de corte, or plants ready to cut, are seldom valued, one with another, at more than five dollars. But in this estimate an allowance is made for the failure of some, which is unavoidable, as the operation of cutting the heart of the plant, if performed either too soon or too late, is equally unsuccessful, and destroys the plant.

"The cultivation of the maguey, where a market is at hand, has many advantages, as it is a plant which, though it succeeds best in a good soil, is not easily affected either by heat or cold, and requires little or no water. It is propagated, too, with great facility, for, although the mother plant withers away as soon as the sap is exhausted, it is replaced by a multitude of suckers from the old root. There is but one drawback on its