Pericoloso, ma delizioso: Fichi d’India! – Dangerous, but delicious: Prickly Pears!

27 Apr

Sorry mum, but I am going to be honest here.

My parents’ property does not have any Fichi d’India (prickly pear) trees. Yet interestingly, come March and April, there seems to be an endless supply of this fruit in the kitchen.

Mind you, they did not pay for it…”Is this part of some dodgy Italian bartering scheme?”, I had initially wondered, ie: “You give me one styrene of broccoli, I give you two styrene of fichi d’india!”. ‘Fraid not, folks.

What ol’ ma & pa DO have is a conveniently-placed secret fichi d’india tree that they pass on their daily walk. From afar and to the untrained eye it will simply seem like a huge prickly succulent. Warning ladies and gentleman: it IS a huge prickly succulent but if you look closer you may find something oh so delicious within it’s spiky womb.

Should you be around in March/April and happen to be walking along a well-known foot/bike path in Melbourne’s west, you may perchance notice a seemingly pleasant older couple strolling along, wearing gloves and hovering around a specific area, heads darting from left to right occasionally to check for passers by, also holding a strange elongated object in one hand, plastic bags in the other.

Strange, they seem a bit dodgy…“, you may wonder.

Relax, it’s just my parents.

They may be getting on in their age (no offence, guys), but present them with an opportunity to obtain free red fichi d’India from an otherwise untouched source and they are more than willing to clamber over the walking trail’s railings, cross over the channel and jostle their way through other vegetation to reach this prickly bush.

Here is what goes on to harvest the fruit. This is where the pericoloso (dangerous) part of the whole debacle comes in. The skin of a prickly pear is covered in, yep, you guessed it, prickles.

You will need:

(a) Two plastic bags, one inside the other, to prevent initial prickle damage once you have harvested the fruit

(b) Thick hand gloves

(c) Long barbecue tongs to snap off the prickly pears closer to you

(d) A contraption of engineering genius to reach the ones higher up, further away, and of extreme prickly dimensions. You pop it over the fruit and flip it off. Voila.

As I said, the corn can on a wooden stick is an engineering feat. It’s a bit small but big enough to go over the fruit and twist off from a safe distance and not get prickles. Its screwed into the wood to be firm. I suppose most people would say it’s just a bit rustic but for anything closer you’re fine picking with the tongs instead. It all depends how hungry you are. My folks must be famished.

To clean them:

Put the fichi d’india in cold water with gloves on.  This way some of the very fine prickly hairs fall off. This makes the fruit easier to handle.

With a sharp knife and still with your gloves on, cut off both ends of the fruit

Slice across the top of the skin of the fruit. Then make a slit from one end to the other and use the knife edge to pull back the fichi skin.  It peels off thickly and leaves the juicy fruit.

Peel off all the skin of the fruit with prickles and all. Then eat the fruit. Alternatively, you can take a pretty picture:

prickly pears, pink, dessert, beautiful, colourful

Eat them raw and chilled. They are beautiful when cold.

The taste is unique: a bit like watermelon/lychees/grapes. The red ones are the nicest I think.

Oh, and they’re quite seedy. Which means one thing, they can constipate you. There you have it mum. I have said ‘constipated’ in my blog. Har har har.

Marisa Raniolo Wilkins of the wonderful Sicilian food blog ‘All things Sicilian and More‘ has this to say about it: They [Fichi d’India] are full of seeds (edible) and many non-Sicilians may not like them but they really are worth trying. My aged Sicilian aunty who lives in Ragusa always warns me not to eat too many. Apparently the seeds can group together and form a lump in the bowel causing constipation.

Beware readers, you have been warned.

This year with so much water falling in Melbourne at the one time the flavours are a bit watered down compared to sunnier harvests.

I suppose I should not have given ol’ ma & pa such a teasing about this. I should be saying thanks for the free fruit. It IS nice to see what some people can find on their walks…even if they are a bit dodgy…

One Response to “Pericoloso, ma delizioso: Fichi d’India! – Dangerous, but delicious: Prickly Pears!”

  1. I gave birth to a wino April 27, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

    hardy har har! Its called gleaning and its very trendy at the moment and everyone wants to get in on it! Rememb er Prickly Pear is a noxious weed in australia and some of these plants are now controlled by the environmental depos by killing it with the cochineal bug lavae which is a good thing. If anyone is growing one please make sure it does not get out of control and do not let it start growing near our rivers and native areas.

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