In the cool peaceable ordinariness of Guinyangan, Quezon lies a pastoral dream, a fusion of man’s practical ability and nature’s givingness. The place isn’t bright lights, big town commonwealth but it has genuine warmth—the people are cheerful and smile quickly.
Guinyangan is pleasingly walkable even under the sun, not quite ridden roughshod over by traffic and plastic commercial developments. The skyline is pretty level and massive infrastructure is desirably non-subsistent. All you see is unmediated Guinyangan. And an awful lot of pitaya.
Dragon fruit. You didn’t know that, did you?
It is also called pitahaya, dragon pearl fruit, and cactus fruit. A pitaya is the fruit of several cactus species endemic to the Americas, South Florida, Caribbean, and Hawaii. It is also grown in Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The fruits grow out of white, ornate flowers resembling an explosion of flames, with a sweet fragrance and bloom for just one night—which is why the flowers are called moonflower and lady of the night.
Pitayas are pollinated by bees and moths, and in better climate conditions may yield up to six fruit-producing cycles every year.
They are commonly of brilliant pink, almost fuchsia, outer layer. Some have red or yellow skin which can be mistaken for mini pineapples with spiky cover.
The fruit has overlapping leaves reminiscent of an artichoke. Inside is a white or deep pink flesh embedded with hundreds of tiny black edible seeds. The flesh is detectably sweet (some fruit has a mildly sour taste like that of a kiwi’s) and extravagantly juicy, with a delicacy that ideally balances acids and saccharinity. It is best eaten crunchy after some chilling time in the refrigerator.
Eating a pitaya can be compared to having a compact pharmacy in the body. Pitayas are well-stocked with anti-oxidants; they contain 10 percent dose of the body’s daily requirement of vitamin C averting respiratory problems, polyunsaturated (the good) fatty acids and several B vitamins for carbohydrate metabolism, carotene, calcium, and protein. It also strengthens the immune system and makes the healing of bruises and wounds faster.
Pitayas have no complex carbohydrates so that food can easily be broken down in the digestive tract and help relax difficult BM moments. The seeds are rich in omega 3 and omega 6 that may lower the risk of cardiovascular disorders. The pyrochemical captin in the fruit helps medicate heart problems while the lycopene found in the red color of the fruit may lower the risk of colon cancer. Other benefits include improved eyesight, anti-aging components, and sugar stabilization which is beneficial to those with diabetes.
Aside from its many health goodness, a pitaya can deliver wake-up lifts, almost ooh-la-la feelings, at times when the spirit lags. It can be made into a pleasant and quaffable wine! At the first sip, one can reassuringly feel, taste, and see the perfume of the plant. The flowery scent hooks the nostrils and slips sizzle into a cold morning to help start the day right.
In the beginning, Lydia Aranas, who laughs easily and wears her 73 years lightly, had a hard time trying to figure out how to shoehorn the many ideas she had in mind after retiring from teaching high school. Caressing for the first time the spiky pitaya, sampling its unique texture, and learning it could help her get rid of a stubborn cold ended the problem of choice.
Chest thumps! Eureka!
A fenceless country space stretching out to forever developed into a field of flowers rearing their bright heads that hold the cores that will become the pitaya fruit, and turned Guinyangan fuchsia.
Aranas, always a take-charge person, didn’t skimp on anything. She went first class and insisted on a stubborn adherence to the quality of her product. Might as well have the best, she says, starting from Jose Arthur Olarte, frequent winner of many wine concocting competitions.
Her farm not only employs several hands on the field but also injects other kinds of related jobs into the area. And that, as a consequence, can give a lift to the community.
Her pitaya wine is easy to take in—lingerie-smooth with a slightly spirit-stirring edge, without the raucous, wake-the-neighbors-‘til-the-barangay-tanods-come-knocking overexcited kick of its cousin lambanog.
It is still a long, herky-jerky ride from the fields of Guinyangan to the top shelf of 5-star bars, but being there can’t be a fanciful thought. When the dragon in the pitaya roars, get yourself in the center of the fruit’s personality and bouquet. Cheers!
Photos by Diana B. Noche and L Maligalig