Tag Archives: cactus fruit

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.


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?





Filed under Native fauna and flora

Picking Pitayas

top of cactus

June marks the beginning of the raining season. Most fruits and vegetables are not reading for picking yet, however, the flower of one type of cactus converts to fruit and is ready for harvest at the very beginning of the rainy season. On Sunday, we started off early to minimize heat exhaustion and went in search of pitayas.


la presa de Quirahuyo during dry season


We went to the presa (lake) near Quiahuyo where we fetch our drinking water. (See Water Woes) It was especially low because last year’s rains were less than normal.


Cow bones found when this section of the lake dried

During the rainy season, this lake is almost 3 times as wide and has hidden deep areas that often become muddy traps for cattle and swimmers.

fishing with nets

Locals illegally fishing

Even this shallow, the presa (lake) teems with fish.


Prohibited to fish with nets in this area

Fishing with nets is prohibited so that the fish population isn’t eradicated, however, that doesn’t stop local fishermen.

Old spark plugs are used in fishing.

Old spark plugs are used in fishing.

All along the edges of the lake, we found rusty spark plugs. Since there was no way for a vehicle to get through the mud and rocks, this seemed odd to me until my husband explained that the spark plugs weigh down the plastic soda bottles that are tied to the fish traps. When the bottle bobs, fish have been caught.

In order to get to the pitayas, we had to cross an area where cows came down from above to drink. As the cattle didn’t seem too pleased to be disturbed, we moved quickly. My son even took off his red t-shirt so as not to attract the attention of the toros (bulls) guarding their herds.


Just a bit further on, we found a good number of cactus. Pitayas are the spiny balls found at the top.


Cutting the pitayas

Unless you are a chuparosas (hummingbird) harvesting them requires a very long forked stick. Fortunately, my husband is an old pro and we had a bucketful in no time.


fresh pitaya

To eat pitayas, you must slice them open, being careful not to get espinas (thorns) in your hands as you hold them still.

pop it out

Pop the pitaya fruit out with your thumb

Then, once the fruit is exposed, use your thumb to pop half out and pop it in your mouth, again, checking for stray espinas (thorns). The fruit has the consistency of seedy brains and tastes a lot like strawberries.

red tuna

Red pitaya

Pitayas come in red and yellow, depending on the color of the flower on the cactus. We were in luck and found both and thoroughly enjoyed a sweet treat.


Yellow pitaya

We are so fortunate to live in an area where the earth provides an abundance for her people. It does take more effort than going to the corner store for chatarra (junk food) but what is life without a little effort?




Filed under Native fauna and flora