Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Real Cactus Society Meets Today

I saw an ad in our local paper that the Cactus Society has regular meetings and I wonder who they are and what they discuss at their meetings. Do they compare species? Talk or sing to the cacti? Whisper to them? Get into a circle and watch them grow?

As far as I am concerned, the real cactus society is the Mexicans. The history of the importance of cactus in Mexican culture has probably not been written but it might go something like this:

Not only do Mexicans eat many species of cactus, but the plant has many other amazing functions. The Aztecs, for example, used to pluck off a spine, making sure a long thin strand of skin peeled off with it, and then used it as a needle and thread, in one, to sew clothes with. The skin was also peeled off, dried and used as paper to draw and paint on.

They also discovered that a strong rope could be made from the dried skeleton or hemp of the cactus. The dried, cactus spears and trunks, also made for a long, hot burning fire to keep them warm or to cook on.

For Mexicans, eating the new shoots of cactus (my mother stressed they had to be cut before 10 am to preserve the tangy flavor), diced and cooked, and with onions, a clove of garlic, and then topped with freshly diced tomato and cilantro is a delicacy. Another special treat became the "tuna"- or cactus pears - that grow on many species. Carefully removed from spears full of notoriously vicious spines, they are peeled and the seedy crimson, yellow or white, pulpy meat inside tastes like jam!

But beware! It takes a masterful surgeon to avoid the harmless looking needles, like powdery puffs around the pear. While they don't ply their evil upon touching them, the nearly invisible spines tenaciously cling to your hands for days, hounding you each time your fingers brush up against anything, the price of your foolhardiness. It is worth the treat, though.

Throughout Mexico, in market places or along the highways, one can buy them from the Indians already peeled, and chilled over a block of ice! My favorites are the white pears; they are amazingly sweet. Don't sweat the over-sized seeds inside, just swallow them and your body will process them harmlessly and naturally.

The ancients also discovered peyote, a powerful hallucinogenic cactus reserved for the priests and religious ceremonies, still used by groups such as the Huicholes of central Mexico and native Americans in the Southwest.

Pulque, Tequila and Mezcal are alcholic beverages squeezed and fermented from the Maguey and other species of cactus. It must have taken inspired minds to figure this out.

Many say - and believe - that cactus is "la comida de los pobres" (a poor man's food), but I think that even if I was rich, I would still eat them!

So, the real cactus society meets today for lunch. Want to join? Cactus is on the 3-course menu: cactus salad, pears for dessert, with an aperitif of mezal or tequila. for Dues are affordable, but bring your gloves!!

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