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Fruta del Sol

July 21, 2012

Las tunas

To walk outside these days is to lose one’s will to live … it’s that hot. Yet, in the midst of the swelter, some of the prickliest of the Rancho’s cactuses are bringing forth fruit. Las tunas — Spanish for what Americans call cactus apples or prickly pears — are in season now and their colors are gorgeous.

In the Rancho’s harvest, the largest of the fruit were produced by Cereus peruvianus. When I first spied them from the car they seemed so dark I thought they were black. But taking a closer look I found them to be deepest purple and raisin with traces of blue-violet; a long black string trailing from one end.  Called “pitaya” and “Peruvian apple”, this variety of cereus is actually native to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, despite its name. The large green tunas in the photo are the fruit of Opuntia engelmannii, the “cow’s tongue prickly pear” cactus. These tunas are not yet ripe; if they were ready, they would be plump and deep red-purple. The medium-sized red-maroon fruit studded with gold spots, is that of Opuntia paragueayensis. My specimen produces many bright orange blossoms as well as richly hued fruit, sometimes at the same time. All of these tunas are eaten in Mexico and other Latin countries, and are made into syrups, jams and candies. Click here to go to a brief guide to tunas and their uses from the pages of my favorite food magazine,  Saveur.

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When I was a kid and heard my grandfather call cactus fruit tunas, my first thought was, “So, what’s the Spanish word for tuna, the fish?!” In case you’re wondering the same thing, it’s atun, and pronounced, ah-toon. Go figure.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Vickie Perez permalink
    July 21, 2012 5:13 am

    Have heard and seen these for years but have yet to try them. What would you liken the tastes too? They do make a colorful picture.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 21, 2012 5:15 am

      The tunas I’ve had are sweet but also subtle, from what I can remember; it’s been awhile. I’ve never used any in a recipe myself … maybe it’s time!

  2. July 22, 2012 6:42 am

    I like to use the prickly pears to make a syrup of the most astonishing shade of magenta. They taste a lot like regular pears to me! It looks so pretty at the bottom of a glass of lemonade or swirling around in a tequila-heavy margarita. I also use the prickly pears to make a fabric dye for wool. It’s not the most color fast dye I’ve used, but it fades to a pretty medium pink color. I’ve seen some samples that have stayed deep magenta for years, though, so maybe it’s just my technique. The cereus pears kind of have the texture of an overripe watermelon, with the crunchy seeds of a kiwi. I like them a lot, though so do the birds. I will fight a bird for a cactus pear! I’m hood like that.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 22, 2012 2:04 pm

      I can see you in a “back off, birdie!” situation … Wow, now I feel kind of like a lunkhead for not exploring the wonderful world of las tunas more … I mean dying your wool with ’em? I have work to do …

      • July 23, 2012 4:31 am

        You know, I was really surprised you said you hadn’t eaten tunas that often. Not sure why. They’re great. I wish I had a trick for eating or processing them w/o getting glochids all over me, though.

      • reubix1 permalink*
        July 23, 2012 4:39 am

        Me too … I think my next step should be one of those margaritas with prickly pear syrup!

  3. July 24, 2012 12:34 am

    Maybe you need a visit to the northwest. Today’s high is 67 and it was 52 this morning. I was going to ask if there is a painless way to harvest tunas. Are they good enough to suffer for?

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 24, 2012 4:50 am

      Mmmm, those temps do sound wonderful… it was balmy here until just before lunchtime when the sun brought down the boom. Painless tunas harvesting? Not that I know of, I always get pricked!

    • July 24, 2012 5:35 am

      The only thing I’ve tried that keeps me prickle-free is chopping them up with two knives and boiling the whole mess with water and sugar to make a syrup. In Mexico I’ve seen them chop the spines off with a knife while holding the pear still with a skewer, but I guess my pears are too juicy or my knives are too dull because that didn’t work for me. 😦

      • reubix1 permalink*
        July 26, 2012 1:29 pm

        I’ve never been much of a juggler so I’d surely end up with a slit wrist or something trying to do all that! I’m going to go to our local Mexican supermercado and see if what tunas products they’ve got on the shelf …

  4. July 26, 2012 5:43 am

    I love cactus fruit. The other day I opened up some Epiphyllum fruit and was pleasantly surprised with its kiwi-melon flavor!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      July 26, 2012 12:55 pm

      I know they’re beautiful but never thought to eat them … sounds yummy!

  5. Vickie Perez permalink
    August 3, 2012 4:07 am

    I never thought of eating them either. And silly me, I’ve just been growing them all these years just for the flowers!!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      August 3, 2012 4:12 am

      Same here, now I can’t wait for the next crop to appear…

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