The exotic prickly pear (fico d’india) is a delicacy in Sicily and thrives around the entire island. Known also as the Barbary fig (opuntia ficus-indica) it is a species of cactus cultivated throughout the world in arid and semiarid areas and is thought to be native to Mexico.
It is best to taste them after the first rains as the plant soaks up the water immediately which fattens the fruit beneath a tough prickly exterior.
But how do you get to the fruit? Good question.
First you pick one of those oval-shaped spiky balls with a special contraption which is a steel cup fastened to a broom handle. You put the fruit in the cup and snap them off at their base. And with some good gloves try your hand at peeling them.
Warning peeling these little beasts is not for the faint-hearted if you get a splinter they hurt like hell and are real buggers to get out.
With your prickly pear fastened into the end of a fork the challenge awaits …
On a flat surface with the fork firmly holding the fruit you cut almost all the way through on both top and bottom ends.
Make a slit down the middle beside where you have the fork, being careful not to cut too deep as to damage the internal fruit, you can push the skin back with the knife and easily pull the fruit out with your hands.
They are best served fresh so allow them to cool in the fridge.
Their taste? They are filled with hard little pips but the soft flesh is quite refreshing and sweet like a watermelon. There are many varieties the red ones are the most vibrant but there are also orange, green and so-called ‘white’ ones which are a golden colour.
There is fico d’india ice cream, sorbet and even liquor so the fruit is versatile. The taste is pleasant but it would be great if someone could take out the pips!
But most Sicilian’s don’t seem to be bothered by them swallowing them without a second thought.
Also, don’t go eating too many of them as they have the sneaky habit of making people painfully constipated. My husband is always telling me about the time my father in law (bless his soul) ate a dozen fichi d’india and ended up in hospital. Eating a dozen of anything is generally not a good idea. So go easy on those fichi!