It’s a sign, a sign that summer is coming to an end, when the fruit of the prickly pear begins to ripen all over the hillsides of the island, and market, and even supermarket, displays contain boxes of them. I spotted these on a walk a couple of weeks back. Looks like there will be a plentiful crop this year!
They will be very familiar to American friends, because they grow all over the Americas, even up into Canada apparently, but not such a common sight for English folk. This week I spotted some in a local supermarket, and it struck me that I would have considered them to be very exotic 20-odd years back, but now they are as common as blackberries are in the late summer countryside of England……and equally, if not more dangerous! They are not called prickly pears in English for nothing! They are quite delicious and refreshing, but very difficult to eat! I was shown how to peel them some years back, but was never successful; so I compromise by sticking a fork into one, cutting it in half, and using the fork to put it into an egg cup and scooping out the fruit inside as if I am eating a boiled egg! Someone recently volunteered to show me again…..but I can’t remember who said it……if you read this, someone, please let me know!
At this time of year it’s very common to see people by the roadside harvesting the wild fruit, exactly as we used to go blackberrying in England, but be very, very careful if you do! Not only do they have the spikes you can see, but they’re covered with very fine, thinner than a hair, spikes which are difficult to spot, but which are extremely irritating and sometimes painful when you get them in hands or legs……thick gloves are to be recommended!!
It isn’t just the fruit which is edible either. In Mexico the young, flat leaves are used in cooking. There is a Mexican restaurant here in Guaraguacho which makes a yummy ensalada de napoles (the Spanish name for the young leaves) with them.
In the Canary Islands the production of cochineal was a major industry in years gone by. The beetles from which cochineal is made live and breed on the cactus, so there are still places where you see them growing on terraces where they were cultivated. In fact, with opinion worldwide turning against artificial flavorings and colorings, the industry is reviving, so if you like to bake check out the wee bottle of cochineal on your kitchen shelf to see if it came from the Canary Islands.