Mérida, Yucatán — Guayaberas. Honey. Orange peelers.
The last item on the list may seem unusual, but there was indeed a time when a Yucatecan inventor sold his pelachinas all over the world. And the inventor made sure his device was highly associated with the Yucatán Peninsula.
Rubén Flores Pérez, a native of both Mérida and Progreso, has gone down in history as the man who for years simplified peeling oranges. Flores died on Aug. 22 at the age of 97 after a brief illness.
His mid-century metal vice-like device replaced heavier and more complicated peelers. It was so portable, it even accompanied street vendors who sold their citrus on bikes throughout much of the 20th century.
He also designed a metallic gold wire binder and a commercial orange squeezer powerful enough to crush coconuts.
The pelachina’s prototype consisted of springs instead of gears. After a few months of trial and error, the inventor finally was able to go to market with a more practical device weighing only 2.5 kg.
The patented device was inscribed with the name “Rubén Flores” as well as “Merida, Yuc.” On the other side, he designed a relief of the temple at Chichén Itzá with words that translate to “the equinox is seen in March and September.”
The Yucatecan invention soon jumped international borders. It came to be sold across Europe and Latin America.
Tourists were apparently impressed when the machine was demonstrated, as the orange peel was neatly removed in one long, precise snake-like piece. They bought them at the now-defunct Bazar de Fierros, on Calle 67 between 58 and 60, a marketplace that Flores co-founded.
The invention — like the guayabera, the trova, Melipona Bee honey and the chile habanero — became a Yucatecan icon.
Flores’ acuity with metal began during World War II, when he moved to the United States and joined the Western Pacific Railroad Company, where he worked making implements for the military.
When he returned home, he devoted himself to the investigation of the “why of things,” leading him to perfect the existing orange peelers, which were heavy and moved with gears.
Once on the market, the device initially cost 50 pesos. Five years ago, it was on the market for 1,200 pesos. But as Flores got older, production was canceled.
“My dad taught each of my brothers a part of the machine,” said his son, Rubén Flores Ayora. “It’s the family secret: to build a machine, we need to get everyone together … My father always thought about the future, that the fruit of his invention was the union of the Flores Ayora brothers.”
He said that his father was a very restless man, who thought of others before himself.
“I think the invention was born of his pain to see his mother, my grandmother Angela Perez, cut her finger when peeling oranges with a knife,” he said.
Sources: Sipse, Reporteros Hoy