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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When you have a bunch of this juicy, seedy sweet fruit, add límon y sal (lime and salt) and enjoy.
Doesn’t this Prickly Pear Margarita look delicious?