Customs, Food Culture, Medicinals, Traditional Food

Cactus Pear and Cochineal, Red to Eat and Red to Wear

Cactus Pear, Tuna Fruit

As we know according to the seasons and feasts a different variety of fruit presents itself in Cuzco. Each of the various kinds of fruit has its own particular taste and it own fascinating history.

Cactus pear is the fruit of the current moment. Fat and sassy, it blushes when you look at it. Though from a spiny plant it is sweet and helps the people who consume it with its medicinal and curative properties. We taste it and let ourselves dive into the flavors and colors of the cactus pear. We can either enjoy it as a fruit or drink it as juice.

The season of this delicious fruit starts during this month of February and we can enjoy it through the end of March. It is easy to find cactus pears in the markets of Cuzco and in the city’s streets. For those people who are at work and are not able to go out, the merchants roam the streets with their wheelbarrows of colorful cactus fruit selling fruit to passers by and to people who work in the buildings around the city. When people see the cactus pears appear they take advantage of the time to taste one. Besides tasting wonderful, they have prices that are comfortable for anyone. You can buy them as individual pears or by kilos.

Cactus Pear For Sale
Cactus Pear For Sale

Not only is this a delicious seasonal fruit but there is more. On the prickly pear cactus from which the pear comes lives a very important insect called cochineal. The insects form white spots on the cactus pads. These insects are famous for making bright red dye. They have a substance that produces this colorand Peru is one of the leading exporters of cochineal in the world.

In many of Cuzco’s provinces weavers use this dye to make a whole range of red colors for their hand made weavings. You can especially see the weavers at work in the nearby town of Chincheros. There the weavers demonstrate for visitors the process of dying, from how to prepare the dye to the way of obtaining different colors and values by adding other ingredients.

They first grind the insects on small grinding stones (batanes) to obtain the color red and then they mix the powder with water in a receptacle. They add alpaca or sheep wool to dye it and in seconds it changes color to a bright red or whatever the value the craftsman desires.

Natural Colors
Natural Colors

For example,if people want orange instead of bright red they can add amounts of maras salt to get the desired color. The people of Chincheros are very knowledgeable about how to get a whole palette of colors for their weaving. It is a great experience for the visitors to Chincheros to see how the weavers work and how they make their dyes and color the wool they use.

Thanks to the prickly pear cactus we not only get a fruit which we await with delight but we also get natural colors so that Andean hands can give intense coloring to our weavings.

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