www.ediblemontereybay.com 17 Ever notice large stands of cactus with hot pink fruit growing randomly alongside farm fields in the Monterey Bay area? ese are nopal cactus, native to Mexico and planted by farm workers who brought them here from their home country. With uses that range from a hangover remedy to a blood sugar regulator, this prickly succulent is finally getting some recognition, thanks to a few creative local food and drink producers who take on the tough job of spine removal, and turn the paddles and the sweet fruit into brilliant products. HISTORY e Opuntia cacti, commonly called nopales in Spanish, refers to the fleshy cactus pads that bear sweet-tart magenta fruit called tuna in Spanish, and prickly pears in English. ere are about 115 known nopales species native to Mexico, most of them edible. Opuntia ficus-indica and Opuntia joconostle are the two most often farmed. Nopal cactus is abundant in Central Mexico and a common ingredient in Mexican dishes and traditional medicine. However, most of the nopal grown in Mexico is fed to livestock. Farming of nopal provides Mexican communities with work, food and income, allowing them to afford to stay on their land. For hundreds of years nopal has been a staple in the diet of Latin Americans and is so coveted that the Mexican flag has a prickly pear cactus on it. e liquid inside the paddles and the juice from the fruit also provide a hydrating source for both humans and animals in the arid regions. Native Americans used prickly pears to make colonche—a fermented alcoholic beverage—and rarer varieties of the cactus possess small amounts of mescaline, a psychotropic substance. Here in the States, the nopal cactus was mostly planted by rogue propagators, and luckily they knew the very best variety to plant, says Tabitha Stroup, owner of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. in Soquel. e hot pink Mexican prickly pears are the tastiest around, delivering a tart-sweet, bright flavor and high tannic acids. ere is also a Spanish yellow variety that can be found locally but doesn’t grow as well as the magenta fruiting cactus because it prefers ashy, volcanic soils. Stroup uses the Mexican fruits in her Prickly Purple Heart Jam, from which part of the proceeds benefits Jacob’s Heart Foundation. Stroup is a wealth of knowledge about the nopal cactus and how to deal with the gnarly spines of both the pads and fruit. For using the fruit in juices or marmalades, she suggests wearing gloves that go up to your elbows. Without removing the spines, put the ripe prickly pear fruit through a juicer whole and strain it as the seeds are also a concern— they are so hard they can break a tooth if they are passed on to the finished product. A big-time local producer of prickly pears is Salinas-based D’Arrigo Brothers, packing under the Andy Boy label. e D’Arrigo fruits are sold under the name cactus pears, perhaps to help consumers forget the spines, which are removed with a special machine, leaving no trace of them on the fruit. Founders of D’Arrigo Brothers came from Sicily, where 10,000 acres of prickly pears are in production. Nopal cactus pads are eaten when they have new, tender growth in the spring through summer. e fruit is harvested summer through fall. When harvesting, wear thick gloves and use tongs to hold the cactus pads or fruit. Choose 5- to 6-inch-long pads that are young, tender and light green in color. Cactus fruit must be picked when it is completely ripe and breaks off easily—otherwise, it won’t have the desired tart-sweet taste. Experienced nopales connoisseurs use a sharp knife to cut off the skin and the spines, starting with the edges first. A novice should stick to using a paring or butter knife and scaling the spines off like you would a fish, or simply use a good quality potato peeler if you want to remove the skin as well. e edge of a metal measuring cup is one of the tools of choice for Dr. Manfred Warmuth, a UCSC computer science professor and member of the California Rare Fruit Growers, who cultivates about 20 different varieties at home in Santa Cruz. COOKING e common magenta cactus fruit has a tart raspberry-bubble gum-watermelon flavor, but there are several varieties with flavor profiles ranging from super tart to custardy sweet or bitter. Some of these interesting varieties include: roja pelona, which has a kiwi-like fla- LOCAL FOODS IN SEASON JUNE, JULY AND AUGUST Fruit: *Apples • ****Apricots Avocados • Blackberries • ****Blueberries *Boysenberries • Cactus Pears **Cherries • Figs • ***Grapes • Lemons **Loquats • ***Melons • Nectarines Olallieberries • Oranges • Peaches ***Pears • Plums • Raspberries Strawberries • Tayberries Vegetables: **Artichokes • Arugula **Asparagus • Basil • Beets • Bok Choy Broccoli • Cabbage • Cardoons • Carrots Cauliflower • Celeriac • Celery • Chard Chicory • Collards • Corn • Cress Cucumber • Dandelion • Eggplant Endive • Fava Beans • Fennel • Garlic Green Beans • Kale • Leeks • Lettuces Mushrooms • Mustard Greens • Onions Peas • ***Peppers, Bell • Potatoes Radishes • Spinach • Summer Squash Tomatoes • Turnips Seafood: Abalone • Crab, Dungeness Halibut, California • Lingcod Mackerel • Rock Cod (aka Snapper, Rockfish) • Sablefish (aka Black Cod) Salmon, Chinook/King • Seabass, White Sole (Dover, Petrale) • Spot Prawns Squid, Market • Tuna (Albacore, Bonito) *comes into season in June **ends in June ***comes into season in July ****comes into season in August *****goes out of season in July Notes: No notation on fruits and vegetables means the crop is available the duration of June, July and August. Only seafood that is local and considered sustainable by Seafood Watch or FishWise is listed under seafood. Research assistance from Real Good Fish and Serendipity Farms.
edible Monterey Bay Summer 2016
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