Saturday, February 13, 2010

Beware the Prickly Pear

I was recently browsing in the produce section of my local Meijer store, and after grabbing the usual grapes and oranges I had a quick peak at the "weird" stuff section. You know, the little area with the odd coconut, pomegranate, or starfruit; the stuff you may have heard of but still don't buy too often. Well they had something I'd never tried before: prickly pears!

I've never even seen these things sold anywhere, so I just jumped right in. Didn't know how they are eaten, or what a good one looks like, so I just started squeezing them and giving them a good looking over. They were 3 for $2, so I did a good amount of fruit moving around. I put the three winners in a provided plastic bag and that was that.

But, these little guys aren't called prickly pears because they used to be prickly. This diabolical plant has two types of spines. The big mean ones are removed by the pear technicians, but there are also very fine, transparent, hairlike spines to deal with. These detach and become embedded in the skin. So after touching countless of the little things, my hands were covered in little bits of pain. It was like having 15 or so splinters at the same time. I definitely looked like someone to avoid, walking around a supermarket, staring intently at my own contorted hands and mumbling painful expressions to myself. I got most of them out, but I'm typing this with a band-aid on one finger. Shouldn't those things have a warning label or something?

Well in case anyone would like to have a little taste test at home, if you avoid hurting yourself you've won most of the battle. Peeling and eating the fruit is pretty straightforward.

How to eat a prickly pear:

The culprit. Use a rag or gloves or something while cutting to avoid being poked a bunch by invisible pricklies.

First cut off either end of the fruit to get rid of the stem and other inedibles.

Then make a slight cut towards the center, and simply peel the rind off of the fruit with your hand. It separates easily.


The fruit is nice and juicy. There are seeds throughout but they are edible. It has a bit of a watermelon sort of taste.

Prickly pear fun fact: the eagle eating a snake on the flag of Mexico is perched on a prickly pear cactus. The legend is that the Aztecs built their capital city of Tenochtitlan at its location because they were told to look for the eagle by the god Huitzilopochtli(whose name is hereby declared unpronounceable). Tenochtitlan(present day Mexico City) literally means "the place of the cactus fruit" (source here).


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