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Prickly pears without tears

A prickly pear, otherwise known as a cactus fruit, has a tough skin and tufts of fine, but very unpleasant, thorns. Their purpose is to stop hungry animals, or people, feasting on the delicious fruit flesh inside. However, it's not difficult to circumvent these barriers; all you need is a pair of kitchen gloves and a little skill. You slice off the ends of the fruit score the skin and then peel the sections away. Once you have the "naked" fruit in your hands, you can cut it into slices or cubes ready for eating. Prickly pear is juicy and sweet tasting a little like melon or pear. You'll also discover up to 300 tiny seeds that you can eat without thinking twice.

Decorative and delicious

Use this exotic-looking fruit to add flair to fruit salads, yogurt desserts and even savoury dishes like game or poultry. Or create an eye-catching starter by arranging scoops of prickly pear with Serrano ham and goats milk cheese. Or eat the fruit just like that or chilled with a dash of lemon or lime juice – delicious! Prickly pears are rich in vitamin C (23 mg per 100 g), B vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium. They also contain pectin and taurine an anti-oxidant amino acid.

The history of prickly pears

Prickly pears (Opuntia ficus indica) originated in Mexico. Spanish seafarers brought it to Europe in the 16th century and it began to be grown around the Mediterranean. The cactus on which the fruit grow is well-adapted to withstand strong sunshine, heat, drought and it flourishes in nutrient-poor soil. The plant can grow up to four metres high. The pears themselves are egg-shaped, but slightly flattened with warty bumps. In colour they range from yellow to salmon-pink and dark brown. After harvesting the fruit are brushed to remove the fine hairs, but you have to assume that some will be left, hence the advice at the beginning of this article to handle them with rubber gloves.

Buying and storing

You can buy prickly pears virtually all year round. The main supplier for the European market is Italy. Prickly pears won't ripen further after they've been picked, so you need to choose fruit that are already soft and juicy. Check for bruising or a damaged stalk, both of which could mean that the fruit will deteriorate quickly. Prickly pears will keep for several days in a cool place.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de