Saturday, October 09, 2004

All About Prickly Pear

The first time I had prickly pear fruit was in a Mexican popsicle or "paleta". It was a bright cherry red and sweet as could be. Mexican summers can get so hot you need something, anything ice cold, never mind what the flavor is. But I think that was the first and last time I tried prickly pear fruit.

So what do you do with prickly pear fruit? Until today, I honestly didn't know. Not that not knowing stopped me from buying some. When I find something unusual at the grocery store I often feel compelled to give it a go. Prickly pear fruit is in season from spring until fall, but I only just noticed them in the store.

Prickly pear fruit is also known as tunas, barbary fig, Indian fig or Indian pear. The flesh can be yellowish green in addition to the beet red color mine were. They are popular in Latin America and Italy and also grown in Australia and Africa. A great source of vitamin C, each cactus fruit contains approximately 50% of the vitamin C found in an orange (22 to 30 mg. per 100g serving). Soft inside, packed with hard little seeds, flavor-wise they are exceptionally bland. Which is surprising given how brightly colored they are, you just expect them to be flavorful. But they are awfully pretty.

After hacking into one and having a nibble, I decided to toss it in the blender with a little water. I then strained out the seeds and mixed the pulp and juice with half a lemon, two teaspoons of sugar and some sparkling water to make a kind of fizzy prickly pear lemonade. It was quite delicious and made a nice fancy drink. If you are looking for a mildly exotic beverage, this could fit the bill. My curiosity satisfied, I think I may wait until I'm back in Mexico to try them again. Then again they could make an interesting margarita...