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Summer Monsoons in the Southwestern Sonoran Desert produce a wild bounty of crimson fruit. Rising from Engelmann’s prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii), these fruits, or tuna in Spanish, perch atop Mickey Mouse–shaped pads like ruby crowns. Against muted browns and greens of the desert, the tuna are eye-popping.

When I landed in Tucson for graduate school more than thirty years ago, I was amazed to learn the spine-covered fruits were edible. I sent store-bought prickly pear jelly back home to midwestern friends for the holidays, its dazzling pink hue a cheeky reminder of the desert’s December sunshine. I knew, though, that with enough determination, I could put up my own preserves from foraged fruit just as my Kansas grandmother had canned foods from her garden. When I realized I wasn’t moving after a decade of desert living, I decided to see if harvesting prickly pear fruit could connect me to the native foodways of my adopted home.

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