Three blocks from Cuzco’s main square while waking towards the San Pedro Market, you can easily find yourself in the path of the pineapple vendors. In August the demand for pineapple goes up and the fruit expands its zone of offerings to the streets, fairs, and markets of the city. You can find this fruit in desserts, salads, ice creams and juices. On a blue-skyed morning, with a radiant sun warming up the town, it is hard to avoid tasting the fruit, sweet and juicy, since it is all along your path.
With so much heat and movement in the street, how can you resist eating a round of pineapple. The vendors on the corners or pushing their carts tempt you at every step with the fruit. They use every tool of their craft, pushing their cart lined with sacks in different colors on top of which they carry 10-15 pineapples carefully placed. Towards the front they accommodate a white metal platter carefully balanced. On it they exhibit sliced rounds of peeled pineapple ready for the clients to eat.
With a pair of rubber gloves on their hands and a medium knife they quickly do the work of carefully peeling the fruit, eyelet by eyelet. They take out all the little thorns in the fruit so that they do not interrupt their client’s digestion. On the porcelained platter the slices of yellow pineapple, looking for all the world like honey, connect us with the sun and fill us with energy only from having seen them.
Temptation won me over in the doorway of the San Pedro Market. I decided to eat some pineapple. There were four vendors around it, but the smile of one of them, Antonia, trapped me. “Come on. Try one casero. It is sweet and I just peeled it.”
With those words she invited me to taste it. “Choose the slice you like the best.”
I pointed with my finger the piece I wanted and she prepared it for me by putting it in a small, transparent plastic bag and adding a plastic spoon. It was bathed in juice and shone like the sun.
Not sure, I asked her if the juice was pure. Antonia answered, “No, Caserito, we always mix it with boiled water and light brown sugar to give it color.”
The first taste covered my palate with sweet juice. Its texture was soft and delicate like cotton candy. Every bite took me to Quillabamba in Cusco’s lowlands. There the pineapple is as good as what I was tasting, sweet and filled with flavor.
I wanted to know where the pineapple came from so I asked her. She said she buys it in the Huancaro market. “At 5 AM I leave my house because that is when the wholesale trucks arrive. I live in Poroy and on Mondays and Fridays I get up very early to be able to get my merchandise.
“There are three kind of pineapple”, she said. “This one, the Ccara, is inexpensive but it is not as juicy and is a bit bitter. There is also the Golden which are big and juicy but cost more. I prefer to work with the Royal (la Real). It is also very juicy and is very sweet. These ones come from the Valley of Lares, from Pilcopata, and from Yanatile. The others, on the other hand, come from the Peruvian north.”
She told me that the Royal costs between four and five soles and from each one you get 7 or 8 slices. I saw about 20 pineapples in her cart. “When there are lots of people I usually sell some 20 to 25 pineapples. But when the day is slow and cloudy I only sell between 15 and 20.”
The pineapple was so good that I asked for another slice.
“In the mornings from 10 to 3 in the afternoon the pineapple sells well. I will often stay until 5 or 6 in the afternoon waiting for my two children to get out of school. They study in Ciencias.”
I asked from when to when she worked and she said, “I leave home at 8 in the morning but I begin selling at 10. It is a lot of work to peel the pineapple, especially with all the eyes. They make you slow down.”
“How long have you been selling pineapple. “Oh maybe 2 years. I also sell other fruits in their season, watermelon, peaches, cactus pears (tuna). My merchandise changes according to the season.”
I said that the casera had a good eye for choosing her pineapple. It was sweet and soft. With warmth and a smile she said, “Thank you, papito. I am happy you like my pineapple.:
After a while I asked her what pineapple is good for. She said it is good for cleansing your kidneys and for your blood. A young man standing there added “of course it is also a diuretic. Give me two more slices please. We have to take advantage of pineapple being in season and eat lots of it.”
Satisfied from eating pineapple and from conversing for a bit with the casera Antonia. as well as from learning a bit more about this fruit given to us by our mother earth, I took my leave.
Inside the market, in the fruit section and in the juice and dessert sections, this fruit fills the space and demands the gaze of passers by. Tasting a pastry, some juice, or an ice cream made from pineapple makes you laugh and dream while awake.
In all of our markets the sellers of pineapple from carts do a great job. You will find them in all of our markets dressed in hats or caps with designs and colors according to the taste of each of them. They wear them to protect themselves from the sun while they work. Their aprons in flower designs or in checks stand out. In their aprons they have a zippered pocked holding their money from their sales. These also tend to be colorful.
The slice of fruit tends to be 1 Sol and everywhere the vendors will sell the pineapple by the slice.