How to peel a fico d’india

Fici d’india (Barbary fig- a local delicacy)

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 …

Fico 1

On a flat surface with the fork firmly holding the fruit you cut almost all the way through on both top and bottom ends.

Peeling Ficho d'india

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.

Fico nearly peeled

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.

Red fichi

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!

Buon Appetito


9 thoughts on “How to peel a fico d’india

  1. They look worth the hard work to get at that vividly coloured flesh. You’d think they would have the opposite effect of constipation.

    I’ve seen these cacti here in Australia, I may get brave and see what happens. (I won’t eat 10.)

    1. They are hard work, but Sicilians love them. Yes they are also quite common in Australia, they flourish actually. Go ahead and try but be very careful.

      1. I was told in France that these are taken as a laxative! Quite the opposite of what you say. Either way, I’ll give them a miss unless someone takes the pips out for me, I reckon they are the problem.

      2. Well, my father in law’s case really proves the hidden dangers of these fruits and the obvious physical dangers getting to the actual eatable flesh. I’m with you I can’t get past the pips. Sicilian’s also do a kind of homemade candy, where the ‘fichi’ are passed through a strainer, which gets rid of pips and the juice is boiled down, dried out and it is like eating a fruit lolly. But it doesn’t really tickle my fancy either …

  2. It’s a so cute post, I didn’t think that prickly pears could intrigue somebody. I decided to write because it’s the first post that I understand from beginning to end 😛 😀 . Goodnight, Anna.

    1. Salve Anna, Grazie, non c’e lo faccio a scrivere in Italiano perche mi vergogna quando sbaglio, faccio abbastanza brutta figura in inglese che e’ la mia prima lingua figurati in italiano! Penso che le foto aiutano … vero?
      Tuo blog e’ bellissimo, ti sto seguendo da ora. Ciao Ciao!

      1. Don’t worry Rochelle, you can reply in English, so I can practise and learn (also if I feel ashamed like you 😛 ). Yes, the pictures are fundamental 😀 and are also very beautiful, brava! (I don’t know the english word). I read your blog from some months, it’s very nice and a good excercise 🙂 A presto , ciao!

  3. Love your blog…… I have also heard a story about the ‘fichi’ from my late father ( your nonno).
    There was a group of young men that had picked and pealed the ‘fiche’ and one of them suggested that they have a competition, who could eat the most…….Now they all knew that if you ate too many one could be seriously constipated…..but they all still went ahead and ate as many as they thought would be safe. After about 10 to 15 each they all decided enough…….except a little guy Santo…..who was always the brunt of the others’ jokes …….he continued eating till he reached 25.
    The others were quite impressed but worried about him at the same time but he told them not to worry he would be fine. The next morning all the mates went to check on ‘Santo’…..he greeted them cheerfully and when they asked if he had been to the toilet he replied “Of course….have you?” Some confessed that they had been with difficulty…. others were still constipated. He grinned and said
    ” I may be small but not dumb! when I got home last night I drank a litre of pure olive oil and this morning I had no problems.”

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