Prickley Pears, Up Close and Personal



Recognize this fruit?  Didn’t think so.  It is the Prickley Pear.  Like that name?  It lives up to it.

It is probably the most unfriendly good-for-you type edible I’ve ever encountered.  More than a few times I’ve had to calm one of my children who brushed up against their grandfather’s ficcurinnia fence. 

The tangled mass of cactus was better than a barbed wire barricade  and grew these delicious (well, so-so)) colorful fruit that were praised as  almost miraculous in their power to cure many ailments.  Sicilian penicillin.

The paddle-shaped leaves have zillions of little hair-like stickers, that imbed themselves in one’s skin from even the slightest brush-up.  Then they sting like crazy  and are nearly impossible to remove. I kept a roll of sticky packaging tape just for that purpose.  Tape over the felt, but unseen, little devils then rip the tape off.  Sometimes it worked. Mostly it didn’t. 

Experience taught all of us American softies just to keep our distance. Ditto the cats and dogs, and burglars  Grandpa would add.  Nobody hopped over the ficcurinnia.

When the fruit was red, Grandpa would harvest the prickley pears and present them to us as a feast.  The seeds are big and you can eat them or spit.  The juice will discolor your shirt if you dribble. 

The real trick was harvesting these mean juicy-fruits.  Here’s how Grandpa did it:

He put on his leather jacket and his canvas gloves.  His tools were  a large fork and a bucket.  He would grab the fruit with the fork and twist.  In the other hand he held a bucket to catch the fruit. Harvested, but not table-ready.  That is the interesting part.   He held the pears over a flame, in this instance his kitchen gas range, to burn off most the little devils.  But it was still not safe to handle. Holding it with a fork he cut off both ends, then a cut a slit in the skin and ‘unrolled’ it from its outer covering.  Nobody ever volunteered to help him.

Ficcurinnia, anyone? 

~ by dottiedoright on January 15, 2010.

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