How to peel prickly pears (cactus fruit without pain!)

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Leggi questo post in: Italiano

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

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.)

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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!

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

First off, poke one with a fork to pick it up. Prick once and leave the fork where it is. Every time you stick the fork in, the more the inner fruit gets broken up and the harder it is to peel.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Hold and rotate the fruit under running water a bit. The force of the water knocks off most of the needles. I suggest emptying the sink of all dishes so that all the needles that fall go down the drain, not onto anything anyone will be touching later on.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Hold the prickly pear still on a plate with the fork and cut one end off.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Rotate the fruit around without taking the fork out and cut the other end off too. There is an indentation in the bottom of the fruit, so make sure that you cut it off all the way.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Make a slit down one side of the skin without cutting into the inner pulp. Stick the knife between the skin and pulp on the side opposite the fork to start separating them.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Continue peeling the skin from the pulp on the first side.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

This will be a lot easier if the fruit is perfectly ripe. If it is overripe, the pulp will not hold together very well, making it hard to peel the skin from, as you can see above.

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Move the fork over so you can separate the peel from the pulp with the knife on the second side. (That little bit of something on the cut end of this fruit isn’t a needle but a little bit of fibrous fruit.)

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

Remove the whole piece of pulp from the remaining bit of skin with the fork or your fingers onto a clean plate…

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!

…or directly into your mouth! Open wide, enjoy, and repeat over…and over…and over again! Yum!

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Make sure you Pin this post so you won’t forget how to enjoy eating this refreshing and healthy fruit without the pain!

Do you love eating cactus fruit, but hate those horrible needles? No fear! Learn how to peel prickly pears so you can enjoy this fruit without the pain!


Question of the day: Is there anything you love to eat, even if it’s a big pain in the butt?

I love my prickly pears despite their prickly dangerousness. Another thing that I’ve always loved eating is lobster and, being a true New Englander, I know how to clean every tiny scrap of anything edible from inside a lobster. I actually got complimented on my lobster cleaning skills by a waiter in New Hampshire this past summer. I also used to be a waitress in a seafood restaurant, and it would drive me insane that nearly everyone who ordered lobster would pretty much just eat the claws and leave the rest because they had no idea how to go about it.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Ciao ,
    Sono siciliana quindi li sbuccio spesso , e’ perfetto il modo che ti ha indicato tuo suocero.molti li mettono a bagno in un secchio con l’acqua per circa un ora e poi li sbucciano .

    • Ciao, Adriana, sì, ho sentito anch’io questo modo, di mettere tutti in un recipiente sotto l’acqua che scorre, e cambiare qualche volta l’acqua. Ma preferisco sciacquare solo alcuni alla volta per non lasciarli bagnati per troppo tempo.

  2. This fruit is deliciuos and fresh! I live in Chile and here we name them “peras”. Also, in the north we eat another fruit of a cactus, named “copao”, more acid but still refreshing and suculent. Regards from Santiago

  3. I have never seen this fruit before, and I don’t think we get them in Asia. We have a fruit that’s covered in spines and has a foul smell but actually tastes lovely (well to me anyway!) – durian.

  4. I would suggest to avoid fork in order to stabilise the prickly pear and use a pincher instead. In that way we minimise the risk to force a tiny thorn from the outer skin of the fruit in the edible part of it. When one has pour water over it then can safely use his other hand instead of the fork.

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