I'm happy to know I have photographs of the day I met two of my best friends. Often, it's hard to remember where or when you first met the people that seem to have always been in your life but with Yunuen and Gabriel, I know. Our mutual friend and Mexican food aficionado, Ruth Alegria, decided we should meet so Ruth and I made the trip, in August of 2008, from Mexico City to the Valley of Mezquital and my life was forever changed. The hacienda is the hub of activity for their families and their business, Xoxoc. They prepare local xoconostle, a sour prickly pear that's essential for the dish Mole de Olla but also for salsas. I will admit, the image of this table, set for adventure, still gets me a little weak in the knees. Gabriel shows off some kind of bladder that was used to hold some kind of liquid. Aren't I a great student? Good things await us. Ruth with Gabriel's mother, Chabela. Chabela is a wee bit mischievous, shy and an incredible cook. Tlacoyos stuffed with refried beans, chiles and cheese. Oh yes, they were as good as you can imagine. The salad was cactus paddles, tomatoes and avocados. Salsa made from roasted xoconostle. Sour was a favorite flavor in pre-conquest Mexico, before limes were introduced. A mixtote of rabbit. The meat, chiles and an avocado leaf are wrapped and steamed until very tender. Fresh cold tunas, or prickly pears. These are the xoconostle when raw. I can spot them now in the markets and know the difference between these and prickly pears, but it took me some time. The seeds are all gathered in the center of the fruit, unlike prickly pears, which have seeds throughout. So this was August 2008. Before the end of the year, we would be receiving our first shipment of heirloom beans from Mexico, and the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project was born.