Tag Archives: cactus fruit

Charandaro Pitayas

Just before the rainy season starts in mid-June, the pitayas, another cactus fruit, are ready. This year we went to Charandaro to do a little harvesting. Pitayas, not to be confused with Pitahayas AKA Dragon Fruit, is also known by the indigenous name coapetilla which means thick serpent in reference to the branches of the cactus stenocereus that this fruit is found.

We found a long bamboo stick with a three-prong top for easy harvesting. This particular grove of cactus was easily accessible by climbing neighboring trees.

We ate about 5 or 6 each and left the rest to ripen up a little more. When fully ripe, they taste exactly like a sweet strawberry.

Have you had pitayas?

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Harvesting cactus

I love cactus! It has a fresh, green taste that is all its own. And it can be found right in our little community, no trip to the fruteria (greengrocers) necessary. We’ve even planted some cactus in our backyard, however, it will be YEARS before they are big enough to harvest from.

nopal

The nopal (cactus) is one of the fundamental symbols of Mexico.  It is considered la planta de vida (life-giving plant) as it seems to never die.  Fallen pencas (leaves) form new plants, therefore an apt symbol of the life-rebirth cycle found in the most ancient of Mexican myths.full of tunas

According to legend, the first nopal (cactus) grew from Copil‘s heart, son of Malinalxochitl, the moon, and Chimalcuauhtli.  Copil had attempted to murder his uncle Huitzilopochtli, the sun, because he had abandoned his mother.  According to legend, Huitzilopochtli defeated his nephew and removed Copil’s heart, which was later buried. The next day, the first nopal appeared, complete with the thorns of a warrior and flowers that blossomed with the love Copil had shown in defending his mother. This nopal (cactus) was discovered by the wandering Aztecs.  Atop the nopal was an eagle, devouring a serpent, over a lake, the sign the nomads had been waiting for.

flag

To have la cara de nopal (the face of a cactus) is to say that one’s indigenous ancestry is evident.  My husband has a decided cara de nopal and that isn’t a bad thing.

cara de nopal

Yes, I’m pocho (a Mexican who has turned his back on his ancestry usually living in the US) but I haven’t been able to get rid of this cara de nopal (Mexican face).

There is a technique however to harvesting. The pencas (leaves) should be a light green. Older pencas can be eaten, but they tend to have a bitter taste. The penca should be cut at the base, and handled gingerly. It is a cactus after all and there are espinas (thorns).

nopales to harvest

Once a good number have been collected, it’s time to despina (remove the thorns). It isn’t a terribly difficult process and practice makes perfect. The base of the thorn is cut, away from the cutter, and discarded. The outside edge is also skinned off. My husband always does this outside–less clean up involved. And that’s pretty much it. The cactus is ready for cooking.

dethorning cactusdethorning side

Cactus can be cooked as an entire leaf on the comal (griddle) or cut into pieces. It can be boiled or basted in tripa (intestine) juice, which is my favorite manner of preparation. It can be eaten warm or cold, used like a tortilla around cheese–a nopaldilla if you will–eaten as a salad with tomato and chili, or with beans and onions or ..well you get the idea.

boiled nopal

roasted nopal

nopales

A nice size bag of the nopales, tomato, onion and yellow chili mixture can be bought from the corner vendor for 10 pesos. Fast-food at its best!

Cactus also provides fruit in season, tunas (See Picking Tunas), the heart of Copil. Just more evidence that even in the desert, “the Earth provides enough for every man’s need” –Mathama Gandhi.

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Let’s talk about food in La Yacata

Our whole purpose in living in off-grid rural Mexico is to become self-reliant. After 9 years of slow progress, we still aren’t there yet. But we are closer than we were.

ears-of-green-corn

Our microcosm provides us with regular food stuff. We grow corn, beans and squash ever year in the traditional way on sharecropped land. (See Las tres hermanas) Our non-GMO organic corn not only provides year-round foods for our animals but also allows for equally healthy tortillas–the very foundation of Mexican cuisine. My sister-in-law runs a tortilleria (See Failing at your own business–Tortilleria), so I am relieved of this very time-consuming task. Corn is also used in tamales, pozole and a plethora of other traditional dishes.

tamal

Corn and lime boiling in preparation for milling for tortillas.

We also grow garbanzo (chickpeas) after the corn growing season is finished.  It makes for a nice snack, either raw or steamed, with the added benefit that the entire plant is eagerly consumed by our grazing animals.  Fiona, the donkey, is especially fond of garbanzo.

garbanzo

Steamed garbanzos

Our organically fed animals also provide us with delicious foodstuff. From our small herd of goats, we have daily milk and occasional meat. The milk we don’t drink right away is pastured right on the stove for later. We use it for creamy hot chocolate or honey-dripped oatmeal. The honey is from a local organic hive and delicious!

pasturizing milk

As we don’t have refrigeration, we dry our leftover meat into jerky strips. The dried meat theoretically should last several weeks. However, it rarely does due to the presence of a pre-teen, always ravenous, boy.

drying goat meat

Our chickens, ducks, and turkeys provide us with daily eggs and occasional meat as well. Just as with the goats, this means butchering. My husband has had years of practice at this and, therefore, our animals do not suffer needlessly.

butchering

We also keep rabbits and have recently added sheep to our backyard barnyard. Both provide occasional meat. (See Waskely Wabbits and Old MacDonald’s Farm). I’m hoping that our sheep will give us wool and perhaps milk later on as well. But as we haven’t had much success with sheep herding (See Birth and Death) it remains to be seen if that will actually happen or not.

full of tunas

Tunas are not hard to find after the rainy season.

La Yacata provides food, free of charge, for us as well. Cactus fruit is abundant towards the end of the rainy season. It’s not unusual for us to spend an afternoon foraging for pitayas (See Picking Pitayas) or tunas (See Picking tunas) or harvesting nopales (cactus leaves)(See Harvesting Cactus) for dinner.

feverfew

Feverfew

Tea can be made from hojas (leaves) or roots of a variety of naturally available plants. (See Feverfew tea and Lentejilla). Wild mushrooms are also found aplenty during the rainy season.

acebuche

Acebuche berries

Mesquite trees provide a chewy sweet treat for a snack. Acebuche trees have tart red berries that can be eaten right off the tree or made into a refreshing drink. Even the grass is edible. Quelite can be boiled like spinach.  (See Women in the Revolution–Marcelina)

chirimoya

Cherimoya fruit

We have moras (blackberries), chirimoya, guayaba, limones (lemons) and durazno (peach) in season in our own garden. We anxiously awaiting fruit from our granada and nispero trees this year. Our orange tree up and died last year, so it looks like no oranges this year. I hope to do some container gardening as well. Backyard gardening hasn’t been very successful with our free range chickens and rabbits out and about.

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Picking Tunas

full of tunas

Tunas are not hard to find after the rainy season.

 

 La Yacata provides for us in many ways you might not expect. Not only do the cactus that grow here give us nopal and pitayas (See Picking Pitayas) but after the rainy season, there are the tunas. Tunas come in red and green and are what might be called prickly pears. As with all things the desert provides, they take some effort to harvest but are well worth it.

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Climbing on the top of the truck might get you close enough to harvest tunas–or it might not.

The first step in picking tunas is to find a cactus loaded with them. Once a likely target has been sighted, then the trick is to determine the best way to get at them. Tunas grow at the very tip top of the cactus and obviously you can’t just scurry up its branches like you would an apple tree. The cactus wouldn’t hold your weight and would give you espinas (thorns) in both your shoes and any other part of your body that might be exposed. You also don’t want to try and shake the cactus like you would a small nut tree or risk a rain of thorns.

stick with machete

Attaching a long stick to a machete may help you harvest.

Sometimes, parking below and clambering up on the top of the truck cabin will boost you enough to reach. Other times, if you are fortunate, the cactus will have grown next to some sort of tree you can climb. When all else fails, a long stick with a machete on top might do the trick.

twist with pinchers

Cutting a small section of the penca (leaf) will allow you to get at the tunas.

With the machete, extended or normal, cut a section of the penca (cactus leaf) that has a good number of tunas. Don’t worry about damaging the plant. Wherever a penca (cactus leaf) falls, another cactus grows.

brush off

Brush the thorns off the tunas before cutting them open.

With improvised wooden pinchers made from whatever branches may be lying about, twist off the tuna. When you have a pile of them, use a group of leafy branches to knock off most of the espinas (thorns). Once brushed clean, slice the tuna lengthwise with your machete. Using your thumb, pop out the fruit and discard the outside. This process is best done out in the open. The tiny espinas (thorns) that protect the fruit are sharp and painful and get everywhere.

pop out

Slice open and pop out the fruit.


When you have a bunch of this juicy, seedy sweet fruit, add límon y sal (lime and salt) and enjoy.

with limon

Enjoy tunas with a little lime and salt!

Doesn’t this Prickly Pear Margarita look delicious?

PricklyPearMargarita

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