Something I love about living in a different country, language and culture is knowing a food or animal in my second language, years later finally looking it up in the dictionary to find out what to call it in my native language, and discovering that it’s a word I’ve always known without actually knowing what it was. So it made me laugh out loud when I eventually discovered that the Italian fico d’india (Indian fig), the fruit growing from the Opuntia cactus, is none other than a prickly pear! There are certainly no prickly pears in northeastern United States, where I lived until moving to southern Italy, so my knowledge of this fruit was limited to Baloo’s “Bare Necessities” in The Jungle Book. (The same thing has happened to me with mulberries, persimmons and turtledoves, among other things.)
Now, a prickly pear at first glance doesn’t actually look that prickly, in that there aren’t big thorns on it, or anything, and the cactus it grows from isn’t particularly dense in thorns either. The skin of the fruit, however, is covered in tiny needles. They’re so thin that you don’t even feel them when they enter your skin. The problem is that they sting like crazy when you touch that area of the skin and are nearly impossible to find and pick out. They are also invisible if they fall onto the floor, counter or dish towel, so you can uknowingly get stuck even if you’re nowhere near a prickly pear. For this reason, my husband despises them. But I just can’t get enough of these things. I love the taste, the crunchy seeds, the thirst-quenching juice… And they grow all over the place where I live, so I can generally get loads of them for free!
Luckily last year my father-in-law taught me how to peel prickly pears so that you don’t get stuck at all with those awful little needles and they get disposed of properly. So now, when prickly pear season rolls around at the end of August, I’m all ready for it! Would you like to learn how to enjoy this fruit without the pain of the prickles? Well then, read on! Read more