July 18, 2008
When I finally decided to join the 21st century and get a facebook account, I used a photo of myself cutting Chumbo, or Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit, on my profile page. A friend wrote on my wall “Can you eat that stuff?” And the answer is, yes! (by the way, there’s a group for readers of From Argentina With Love–are you a member yet?)
My husband says that one of the best times of year growing up in Bowen was when the cactus would start to bear fruit. Then the challenge was to find the chumbo before the other kids in the neighborhood beat you to it. My husband and his younger brother, Marcos, took their bicycles and, weaving along farm roads only navigable with an internal map, found places that had chumbo growing somewhere on the property. They cut a few fruits off and took them home to savor, braving farms dogs and cactus spines to get them–a little-boy version of risking life and limb.
On our last visit, we were driving along one of those farm roads, when I saw a whole field of Prickly Pear Cactus, ripe, pink chumbo crowning the tops of the cacti. A whole field of them, surreal–it looked like a flying saucer might land any second, with all those strange round paddles and bright pink fruits flying akimbo.
“Stop!! Chumbo!!” I shouted. (Only I kept pronouncing it jumbo, to my husband’s amusement!)
We had been on the look-out–I had heard enough good things about chumbo that, without a doubt, I had to try it as soon as possible. In my head, its greatness had reached mythic proportions. Guillermo described it as kind of like a raspberry or kiwi flavor–a tart/sweet combination I knew I would love.
As pulled into the long drive of the farm, dogs barked and ran alongside our truck. We got permission to cart away as many chumbo as we could eat. We waded through the knee-high grass and got eaten alive by Argentinean noseeums and stuck with spines (imagine the nagging I got about that!) to harvest chumbo so I could tell you about it here!
We took it home, where my mother-in-law removed the spines by moving the fruits around with a broom in a pile of leaves and dirt, before washing and peeling them. The flesh inside was a shocking fuchsia color, amazingly bright and vivid. And the flavor was…melony. I think we got to them a little late in the season, these were full of big fleshy seeds, and not tart at all. Just kind of mealy and flavorless. Another week, and they would have turned in to flowers.
I was hoping to make a fabulous preserve out of them, and share the exotic ‘cactus fruit/Chumbo Jam’ recipe with you, but frankly, I was underwhelmed. I wasn’t too encouraged to eat them raw, much less make jam! The great part of a blog is that you get to share your successes and defeats, and I’ve been defeated by chumbo. Oh, well. There’s always next year!