When it comes to Florida cuisine, the conversation starts with Norman Van Aken. The chef and author was among the first to realize the tropical food goldmine of the region, and his restaurants and cookbooks have had a huge influence.

Now the chef/owner of Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando and Director of Restaurants at Miami Culinary Institute, Van Aken is hard at work on his next book, My Key West Kitchen, due out in fall 2012. Each week, he contributes to Food Republic with his “Word On Food.” He’s on Twitter: @normanvanaken.

With the heat of summer reaching across the country, it’s time to learn another trick our Latin neighbors employ when the thermometer is fire red.

Batidos.

This pretty little word is well known all over Latin America and to many in South Florida as well. It’s kind of like a fruit milkshake, as varied as the fruits of the region I have come to call home. A delicious roll call includes: guanabana, anon, mamey, atemoya, coconut, cherimoya, banana, tamarind and many others…all in their gorgeous colors and enticing fragrances! Just saying the words makes me happy. If Eve tempted Adam with just one fruit imagine the hell we’d be in if she had a fully stocked frutería!

I first learned of batidos at the “El Cacique” restaurant on Lower Duval Street in Key West in the early 1970s. A brightly hand-painted board over the formica counter advertised these tropical fruit shakes complete with cheerful pictures of these mysterious fruits. The Cuban waitresses patiently, (usually!) explained how to pronounce the words and seemed to experience deep joy in seeing my eyes light up as I tasted them, one by one, over the months.

It was all so exotic and alluring to me back then…a 19-year-old transplant from the Midwest. Now I make them at our restaurants, at home, or when I out shopping for goods all around Calle Ocho in the midmorning.

Are you ready to make your own? Put the ripe pulp of any fruit (or fruits in combination) in an electric blender with a little ice, a splash of milk or even another juice, (start with orange) and hit the button. Moments later, a delicious, healthy a delectable fruit concoction is ready for you. Serve it in a frosty glass, if you’re planning ahead. I’ve been known to lace mine with añejo. Care to join me?