Page:The Rambler in Mexico.djvu/98

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HACIENDA SAN ANTONIO.

nature has completed her time, and that the maguey is upon the point of throwing up the high flowering stem. He then cuts deeply and systematically into the very heart of the plant, depriving it of the tight scroll of leaves which envelopes the embryo flower stalk, and scoops out a regular hollow of nearly a foot in diameter in the centre.

The sap vessels of the mutilated plant still perform their allotted duty, and pour into this artificial bowl such an abundant supply of juice, that it requires emptying two or three times a day for eight or ten successive weeks. It is computed that a single maguey will yield six hundred pounds of sap in the course of the season. This is the pulque. It is commodiously drawn from the reservoir by means of suction into a long gourd, and thence transferred to goatskin sacks, where it ferments slightly, and is then drinkable and pleasant enough, if not too old. When long bottled in these primeval receptacles, it takes a very peculiar schmaack, as a Dutchman would say, disagreeable to many foreigners, but I cannot say we found it sufficiently so to prevent our partaking of it with great satisfaction as long as we were in the country.

A brandy is distilled from the maguey, which is perniciously intoxicating when taken in too freely. The ordinary pulque is slightly so, and the Indians frequently render it highly deleterious by steeping the berries of the schinus in it.

It is hardly necessary to say that no maguey plant which has been mutilated lives; its uses are, however, still various and important. The dried fibres are of universal substitution for hemp, in the manufacture of cordage and packing-cloths.

There are estates in the valley of Mexico which return as much as thirty-six thousand dollars annually from the culture of the maguey alone.

This most useful plant comes to perfection on the various plateaux of the table land, from the height of five thousand feet to that of nearly nine thousand feet, but beyond a certain elevation it ceases to be so productive.