Friday, May 20, 2011

In Season: Pitaya, a cactus fruit found in Riviera Nayarit

Pataya Fruit

(top left) Pitayo Cactus (since no one knew of any Pitayos growing near here, I had to borrow a photo from the internet). (top right) Pitaya fruit. (bottom) bright red Pitaya fruit cut in half so you can see the edible seeds inside.

On the afternoon of May 4, while I was driving through La Peñita, I noticed a woman sitting on the corner of main street with a table overflowing with Guamúchil (which I featured on this blog a week or so ago). I decided to stop the car so I could take some more photos. On the side of her table sat a medium blue plastic bowl filled with a few small semi-round and very odd looking things. Quite honestly, I wasn't sure if it was a type of food or an insect. She and her client explained that they are called Pitaya (pronunced pee-tie-yah).
Pitaya fruit comes from the Pitayo cactus (Stenocereus queretaroensis). The Pitayos are columnar in shape, and are very common in the arid zones of central and northern Mexico. The fruit has attractively colored pulp that ranges from bright red to yellow and orange. To eat it, you peel back the skin and eat the fruit as well as the numerous soft black seeds. It didn't occur to me to buy one at the time (why, I'm not sure), so I went back the following day. Luckily, she had another bowlful. These were larger, riper, and bright red inside. She told me that she was saving these "special ones" for a client, but agreed to sell one of them for 5 pesos. I was delighted! I walked home, washed it in Microdyn, and cut in in half (as you can see in the photo above). The consistency is similar to that of a watermelon but less firm, and the flavor is mildly sweet and tastes like a pear. It is much better tasting than it looks, that's for sure. The woman explained that Pitayos bloom in the spring, are harvested, and commonly sold at local markets or transported to nearby cities at the end of April. In this particular case, both the Pitayas and Guamúchil were grown in the town of Cuastecomate, which is located east of Jaltemba Bay in the municipality of San Pedro Lagunillas, Nayarit.

This article was originally featured in the Jaltemba Bay Life Newsletter on May 16, 2011.

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