Prickly Pear Cactus
April 17, 2012 by staff
Prickly Pear Cactus, Every part of the prickly pear cactus has a culinary use, and some parts even have medicinal properties.Benito Trevi?o, owner of Rancho Lomitas Nursery in Starr County, said the blood-red fruits, called tunas, that will replace the colorful flowers later this summer are very nutritious. “They have lots of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D,” Trevi?o said.
Trevino has a bachelor’s degree in botany and a minor in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. He also grew up in Starr County very poor and his family had to rely on its knowledge of native plants in order to survive. He therefore has an intimate knowledge of local plants from both practical and academic perspectives. His nursery is located on his 177-acre ranch, which he has turned into the Rancho Lomitas Native Vegetation and Wildlife Refuge. He offers tours of native vegetation, birds and butterflies and gives demonstrations on how to use native plants.
The use of the prickly pear cactus, he said, goes back to pre-Columbian times.
“The indigenous people would cut them in half when they were ripe, and they would remove the seeds and dry the seeds, and then they would dry the tuna out in the sun on top of a rock or something,” Trevi?o said. “And the dried tunas, they would preserve them that way so they could eat them later on. When the tuna season was over, they had dried tunas that they could eat. And then the seeds, they would also dry them and then when they killed a deer or a javelina or something, then they could take a rock and grind the seeds of the tuna and they could mix it with their food to make kind of like a gravy. So they would eat the seeds that way.”
The recently deceased Juanita Garza, who was a history professor at the University of Texas-Pan American, said in a previous article that the thick syrup of prickly pear tunas is sold in some areas of Mexico as a sweet taffy or honey. It’s also cooked, cooled and made into cakes called queso de tuna, or cactus pear cheese, she said.
Trevi?o said that vaqueros in the Valley used to cook both the tunas and pads.
“The vaqueros used to pierce them with a leaf from the yucca, and then they would roast them in their campfire, and they would eat them what I call vaquero-style,” he said. “They do have a few glochids, so they would just burn the glochids in the fire and then they would roast them a little bit.”
Glochids, he said, are the prickly little spines found on both the fruit and the pads.
After the tunas had been roasted, Trevi?o said, the vaqueros would cut them open and remove the seeds and eat them.
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