Take… these, for example. I was on my way home a few nights ago, when I realized that I had forgotten to pick up a loaf of bread at the store. Instead of hauling all the way to the "real" grocery store, I decided to pop in at the corner shop a few blocks from where I was at the time.
This is one of those shops that's bigger than a 7-11 or bodega, but smaller than a grocery store. The same goes for its prices and selection. Good place to go if you just need one or two common items, and you don't have the time or inclination to suffer through a whole entire grocery store experience.
It was there that I spotted a rack of Candy El Pecas products. At first, I honestly thought they were spices, similar to the assortment of things you can find at the end of the "Hispanic Food" section at the grocery store. Except that the rack was positioned in the "candy and cookies" aisle, and it did say "Candy" right there on the package.
Nothing on that rack looked like candy to me. Naturally, I had to try something. I picked the thing that was on the upper right-hand corner, thinking that the store would have put the most popular items in that prime spot. (Makes sense, right? Well okay, it was either that or flip a coin, and I was in a hurry.)
The candy itself is called "Serpentina," and the package describes it as "Mexican hawthorne pulp with chili." That doesn't really sound like candy to me. For one thing, I didn't realize that hawthorns were edible.
I have a hawthorne tree in my yard, and nothing about it says "yummy." It turns out that there are a lot of different kinds of hawthorns. At least one of them is a shrub native to Mexico and the desert Southwest. This shrub produces edible berries which, yes, are used in sweets.
The phrase "with chili," combined with the dark red color of the candy, made me extremely apprehensive. I don't have much tolerance for spiciness. Two or three Hot Tamales is about my limit, frankly.
So you can imagine the daintiness of my first nibble. When I opened the package it smelled vaguely stale, sweet, with perhaps some darker chili notes in there. No help whatsoever. The candy is shaped into a flat spiral which is dusted with a lot of different substances. I literally had no idea what I was about to eat.
Imagine my delighted surprise, then, to discover that Serpentinas are not only edible, but downright tasty! I would describe it as "a very unusual flavor of fruit leather." The hawthorne pulp provides a vague fruitiness. It is also dusted with sugar, salt, and a very mild chili powder.
The resulting candy has a little bit of warmth, and a perfect - almost Thai-food-like - balance of sweet, salty, and spicy.
I'm going to have to hit that rack again soon!
Note: I just learned that this brand of candy may carry toxic amounts of lead. So you probably shouldn't eat very many of them.