The hot nights of April and May are the setting in which hundreds of workers cut the pitaya, an exotic fruit of Mexican origin that abounds in the fields of Jalisco, in the west of the country, during the dry season and became the ingredient of multiple food products.
In the middle of the darkness, the pitayos rise towards the sky. The “arms” or branches of these cacti that are up to 100 years old carry dozens of balls full of thorns that protect the pitaya, a fruit whose scarlet pulp and sweet flavor made it the most anticipated of spring in western Jalisco.
Workers from the towns of Techaluta and Amacueca go out to the fields when the sun begins to go down. In addition to preventing the sun from burning your skin, cutting the pitaya at night helps to extend its life and prevent it from “watering down” due to the heat, Juan López Leal, known as “El Buki,” explained to EFE.
With days of up to 12 hours, the season from April to June represents for most workers an opportunity to secure enough money to cover the expenses of the year, pay debts, repair the house or complete for a wedding or the XV years of the family. daughter. The rest of the year they harvest berries or tomatoes or work on construction.
“The most difficult thing is the first days of cutting, and then the body gets used to the work days, I finish, I go to sleep for a while, I get up early to cut my own (plants), I deliver them, I sleep for a while and at night, let’s go!” harvest, she commented.
At dawn and with music coming from their mobile phones, the laborers, mostly men, put on gloves, a flashlight on their foreheads and a 3 to 5 meter long pole, known as a reed, at the end of which there is a kind of hand with 4 or 5 metal spikes that helps to cut the fruit without falling.
Buki said that, despite the darkness, a good cutter knows how to identify the ripened pitayas by their shape, the color of their skin and the brittleness of their spines. If they lower it before, it becomes bitter and if they wait one more day, the shell swells and bursts and accelerates the process of decomposition of the pulp.
Techaluta de Montenegro is the town that protects pitaya fields the most, which has given Jalisco the distinction of being the largest producer of this fruit in Mexico.
The Government of the entity estimates that a hectare of crops with long-lived plants over 15 years old can concentrate 800 “arms” and generate a production of 60,000 fruits each season.
DELICACY AND PATIENCE
Canuto Torres told Efe that he learned from his father to cultivate and work the pitaya in the most natural way possible, since he cannot fertilize or fumigate the pitayas, whose flower must be pollinated by bats in order for it to bear fruit.
“The bat is the one that pollinates the plants, it cannot be fumigated because what is the fruit used for? Who pollinates it? It cannot be modified (production). Fertilizers? Well, no. The only thing we do is throw cow manure to the middle of the furrows to make organic matter” and fertilize, he said.
Beside him, a dozen women and children carefully pick up the pitayas to clean them. In the heat of the conversation, the task seems easy, but you have to gently push the thorns so as not to bruise the fruit and then put them away in a basket without them falling on the skirt or the feet of those who cut them.
Because it is a short-season fruit and because of the scarlet, yellow or purple colors of its pulp, the pitaya is sold by the piece. From the largest that can weigh up to 150 grams, to the smallest that do not exceed 60 grams, a condition for the price.
Don Canuto separates by size and arranges the pitaya and the chiquihuites or baskets protected by alfalfa branches to ensure freshness. At dawn the pitayas are taken for sale in Guadalajara or the state of Michoacán.
The neighborhood known as “The 9 corners”, in Guadalajara, capital of Jalisco, is the nerve center for the commercialization of pitaya by the piece and also where gastronomic delights are offered that have the scarlet fruit as the main ingredient. Bread, ice cream, jams, eggnog and even cocktails have become common in the area.
Patricia Chávez manages a family business that ventured to challenge the short life span of this fruit to make products all year round.
He told Efe that from concentrates of up to 8 tons of pitaya a year they make hot sauces, jams, digestifs, typical sweets and vinaigrettes that they market in Mexico and the United States.
A few steps away, a cantina created a pitaya-based cocktail that people seek out to beat the heat. Edgar Ramos is the bartender at this bar famous for the so-called “occipitaya” which is only served from May to June and is a mixture of fruit pulp, lemon, cranberry juice, the Mexican mezcal drink and lots of ice.
“It’s a very exotic drink and it’s only once a year, many of us like pitaya and what better way to mix it with alcohol and more so in this hot season, ideal for cooling off,” he concluded.