Pop and Fresh
Looking like a bright pink Mexican dahlia, Lorena Cantu greets us as we enter her bright, cozy shop, Padrino’s Pops. Nestled between The Well coffee house and the Copper Kettle, the shop lined with steel freezer cases is a bit of a surprise. But don’t pass it by: These are some of the best Popsicles or “paletas,” in town.
Today Cantu is hosting Beth Whitman’s Spanish 4 Honors Class from Lipscomb Academy across the street. Whitman loves to bring her class to visit Cantu, who speaks minimal English, and converses in Spanish with the class. “It’s a perfect fit, as Lorena is in a similar place with her English as the students are with their Spanish,” says Whitman. The group of mostly juniors and seniors pile in and suddenly the store seems even smaller.
Cantu starts with a slide show of her family’s history in the business, how the two paleterias in Saltillo, Mexico, were purchased by her grandfather, Jose Mendoza, in 1978, Her father, Geronimo Mendoza, carried on the business in Chihuahua, Mexico, and now she follows suit in Nashville. As a girl, Cantu helped her dad in the paleteria, learning the business inside and out. However it’s much easier to make paletas in America, Cantu says. In Mexico, the water has to go through extensive and expensive filtration to be used in paletas. “We’re in America, we have good water,” Cantu says. “Everything is handmade, everything is fresh.” Indeed. Her fruit paletas are made with in-season fruit and water, and, in some cases, sugar. Cream paletas are fruit and cream, and occasionally sugar. No artificial flavors. She makes watermelon paletas in April when Mexican watermelon is in season. In July and August, she offers strawberry and blackberry paletas.
From the slide show, the group moves into the kitchen, where Cantu demonstrates how she makes tamarind pops. She shows the tamarind pods, then peels one to reveal the pulp, which she passes around for the kids to touch and taste. As with all her paletas, no corners are cut. The tamarind pods are soaked overnight, and then mashed and strained to create flavorful tamarind pulp, which is mixed with water and sugar. Cantu pours the mixture into paleta molds, flash-freezes them in a nifty stainless-steel device at -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and then wraps the paletas in plastic before setting them in the cooler for happy patrons.
The students ask questions in Spanish, and end up with a tamarind paletas in their hands. As a relative newcomer in the United States, Cantu knows the travails of learning a new language, and ends with a reassurance to the kids; “Laugh about your Spanish and don’t worry. I made many mistakes. I was afraid to answer the phone, or send email when I first arrived.” Thankfully, she’s adept at making paletas.
You can find Padrino’s Pops at the store across from Lipscomb Academy, and also all over Nashville in roaming carts at festivals, farmer’s markets and events.
4002 Granny White
Nashville, TN 37204