Penca literally means leaf or “fleshy leaf of an agave or cactus.” In the Mexican world the meaning is obvious and literal. The leaves of the agave that have to be sheared off before you get to the piña.
Like all things in the Mexican universe a penca is never just a penca. It doesn’t just get cut off the piña, lie inert and decompose. No, once shorn it becomes integrated into a wide web of functions including decomposing in a pile. Turn them over and they become roofing titles. The sharp tips double easily as needles, spikes on weapons, and fishing hooks. If you shred the pulp you get fibers that can be used for rope and cloth. Of course cotton and synthetic materials are now so inexpensively produced that making cloth out of penca fibers is comparatively expensive. Dried out they become fuel. It’s not that all of the material is recycled this way but it’s amazing to see just how much is.
Most germane to the mezcal world pencas can be used as internal condensers within stills while the tips are used as spouts.
And they are a constant source of creative inspiration for all the hand crafted copitas and art works. The serrated edges add texture to ceramics like Omar Hernandez‘s and they’re always popping up in paintings, drawings, even textile designs.