The Mexican ice pops called paletas were born in Tocumbo, a small municipality in the Mexican state of Michoacan sometime in the 20th century.
The name of the first person to create paletas — best described as 'heaven on a stick' — remains elusive, but today Michoacan is rife with paleterias.
And as more immigrants came to the U.S., paleterias sprung up in different cities, from Austin, Texas, to Nashville and Modesto, Calif., to New Rochelle and Port Chester.
Now we can add Mamaroneck to the mix as brothers Florencio and Ignacio Fernandez, owners of the six-year-old Paleteria Fernandez in Port Chester, have now opened a much larger shop at 350 Mamaroneck Ave. in Mamaroneck.
Born in Veracruz, the Fernandez brothers come from a paleta making family. While their maternal grandfather had a paleta business, their father apprenticed with the creator of the very first paleta, spending years in his successful shop in Mexico City before opening his own business back in Veracruz.
Although raised with paletas, neither brother came to the U.S. intending to stay in the family business — or work together. When Florencio immigrated 16 years ago, he started working for a private tree service in New Rochelle. Years later Ignacio went to California, worked in a variety of positions before settling in an auto dealership.
But then fate intervened.
Florencio was hurt in a terrible accident while cutting a tree. After being told he could no longer work in the tree-cutting business, Florencio took his own money, raised some more from family and friends, and called Ignacio to join him. With the original Michoacan recipe their father learned from the paleta master, they opened Paleteria Fernandez in Port Chester.
It was there, four years ago, where I experienced my first Fernandez-made paleta.
The ice pop paletas are made from crushed fresh fruit and sometimes vegetables (yes, vegetables!), water and cane sugar.
"Just a very little bit," Florencio said. The fruit itself, fresh and ripe, provides most of the sweetness. For the milk pops, the water is replaced by milk and cream.
Of course a few of the more than 30 flavors available get a little something extra special — or rather a lot of something.
The pine nut, pistachio, pecan and peanut pops are so chock full of nuts the taste compares to eating handfuls of the nut meats themselves, only richer and sweeter. While most cookies and cream ice creams are more like cream with a bit of cookie, this one lives up to its name, the pops are filled with crushed cookies from top to bottom and it's not unusual to find quarters and even whole halves of the cookies mixed in. Not surprisingly cookies n' cream is one of the most popular flavors with those newer to the paleta experience.
For the bolder and the paleta-initiated, exotic flavors abound from unusual tropical fruits like mamey, lucuma and nance. Native to Mexico, the flesh of the mamey sapote tree's fruit is soft, creamy and almost custard-like in texture and flavor. The tropical nance is small, sweet and aromatic.
Lucuma, my family's new favorite, is a subtropical fruit of Andean origin native to Peru, Chile and Ecuador. It has a dry flesh with a rich flavor or maple and sweet potato. To our palates it tasted a lot like butterscotch. Florencio thinks our taste buds are a bit out of whack but no matter, the rich, creamy orange colored milk pop is scrumptious.
Another revelation — ice pops that mixed sweet and savory like pico de gallo made with cucumber, orange, chile, jicama and lime and the complex Pineapple with Chamoy, a Mexican sauce and condiment made from pickled fruit, typically both salty and spiced with powdered chiles. I loved the sweet, salty, spicy combination but my husband grimaced and returned to chomping on his Chongo paleta, a cinnamon flavored curdled milk bar — think mild cinnamon ice cream with bits of cheesecake, a must buy.
If you're not ready to take the full dive into the flavors of Mexico and South America but want an authentic experience, go for the creamy avocado – buttery and decadent like a perfectly ripened Hass. There's just enough sweetness to make you think ice cream, not guacamole.
If even this sounds like too much, you can't go wrong with the intensely flavored vanilla made from some of the best beans around, strawberry and cream with whole strawberry halves, coconut so filled with the fruit the flakes are busting out of the pop or the never-fail dulce de leche, creamy caramel on a stick.
Ben and Jerry should be worried — Paleteria Fernandez is the real deal and the Fernanez brothers are on the fast track to becoming the ice cream kings of the Sound Shore.