Flora & Fauna

July 26, 2012

Our Prickly Pears


The pear like fruit of the well-known prickly pear cactus is consumed more by wildlife than by the people of the Rio Grande Valley. In neighboring Mexico the tuna (fruit of the cactus)   is the main ingredient of traditional jams and cheese like candy, and sold by the roadside and at farmers markets especially in central Mexico. The tuna has also been the source of inspiration of favorite Mexican folk songs such as the one sang by Jorge Negrete whose lyrics defy a seemingly innocent action.

Guadalajara es un llano – Guadalajara is a plain

Mexico es una laguna -  Mexico (as in Mexico City) is a lagoon

Me he de comer esa tuna – I shall eat that tuna

Aunque me espine la mano – even if I  prick my hand

According to Richard Moore, a well-known local outdoorsman and host of a TV show called The Nature Report, tunas are a favorite of scaled quail, who peck away extracting the purple pulp and myriad tiny seeds within. One of his segments titled Tuna Time aired on June 27, 2012, Moore details how the curve-billed thrasher effortlessly pierces the fruit, and how the golden fronted woodpecker drills into the fruit whose sweet pulps then attracts bees and a variety of insects.  

Tuna is harvested between the months of April and November in Mexico. The highest production is registered in the months of July, august and September totaling 85% of the total production from the country.  It is reported that 98% of the country’s total production is consumed in Mexico.

Recent scientific studies have reported the prickly pear is rich in antioxidants, fiber, and is great for the digestive system because of its calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium in addition to vitamins C and E.  This fruit comes in different varieties / colors such as white, yellow, orange and red tunas.  There are marked differences between the domesticated prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) and the wild species which Native Americans consumed (Opuntia engelmanii and others) Tuna fruit found in local grocery stores are grown from a spineless prickly pear variety originally developed by world renowned plant breeder Luther Burbank.  In July, the local H.E.B. advertised the prickly pear selling 4 for $1 dollar.

Garrett McCord posted on simplyrecipes.com recommending the use of the prickly pear juice in cocktails and vinaigrettes for salads. He also suggests the juice to flavor cream cheese frosting. He also states preferring using the juice which he recommends extracting by placing “husked” prickly pears into a blender or food processor and pulse until liquefied, then placed into a fine mesh sieve discarding the remaining pulp and seeds. Great mixed in with some fresh lemonade by using equal parts of prickly pear juice to lemonade.

The prickly pear pads are an entirely different story that I will probably write about in the near future.

Click on the link and enjoy a great nature report video by Richard Moore http://www.valleycentral.com/telerio/photos.aspx?list=294700&id=770166#.UBGG47RrOSo

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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