Adrián (left), Magdalena and José Miguel, at Finca Altollano.

A summer amid prickly pears in Malaga's Orange Blossom Valley

A family in Coín are growing this fruit, which has been part of the province's gastronomy for centuries, and selling them as close to home as they can

JAVIER ALMELLONES Malaga

Nature knows what she's doing. That’s a saying José Miguel Guzmán often uses when describing his prickly pear bushes at Finca Altollano in Coín. There, he and his family are growing this subtropical fruit which has been part of Andalusian gastronomy for centuries but has not always received the recognition it deserves.

Between early August and mid-September, when the sun is particularly fierce in Malaga and the Guadalhorce Valley, this family has to harvest the delicious prickly pears from more than 1,000 bushes on their two-hectare estate.

José Miguel, his wife Magdalena and their two children, Alicia y Adrián, never stop working during this month and a half in the summer. Harvesting the prickly pears takes up all their time. Every morning, every day, they go into their own private cactus plantation to collect the spiky products.

They pick them by hand. “We are used to getting pricked,” says Magdalena, showing her forearms which are covered in red dots.

“It’s not easy to sell prickly pears here in Malaga province,” says José Miguel, who spends a good part of the year looking for clients. Most are fruit and veg shops in Coín and elsewhere in the province. Two years ago, the Guzmán family registered a trade name to identify their products: El Tío Lo Chumbo.

In the summer, they often have a stand at the Sunday food market in Coín, selling the fruits they picked only hours beforehand at their estate, which is just the other side of La Trocha shopping centre.

Dragon fruit

Bit by bit, and only by word of mouth, they are managing to sell their fruits to people close to home, because they like to follow the ‘kilometre zero’ philosophy.

José Miguel says he never imagined that this business would be so successful. When he bought Finca Altollano, he never thought that would be growing prickly pears, either. He started by planting olive trees, but after a while he realised they weren’t doing very well. When he noticed that the previous owner had planted a few prickly pear bushes, he decided to add some more and, gradually, those became the farm’s main product.

Now, he is planning to start growing another tropical product, one which has fewer thorns: pitaya, otherwise known as dragon fruit. In fact, José Miguel is hoping to plant one thousand of these bushes, because he believes they will be popular.