November 17th, 2013
When I went to stay in Barcelona last October, I had a long list of things that I wanted to cook or eat. One of those items was the the Prickly Pear, which Chica Andaluza had mentioned recently. I’d never tried a Prickly Pear and remembering Baloo’s song, The Bare Necessities from Jungle Book, I’d always assumed they came from India. Not so, the Opunti Cactus comes from the Americas and was introduced to Europe (around the Mediterranean) after Columbus discovered America and later, in the 18th Century, to India. The origin of the wild Opuntia Ficus-Indica is likely to be Mexico and the Prickly Pear is the brightly coloured fruit of the cactus, which can be peeled and eaten.
I arrived in Barcelona in the evening and we went out for dinner at one of my favourite places, Romesco. We ate a lot and then went to Iposa for coffee and a glass of rosado. It was supposed to be a glass, but they suggested we have a bottle and take it home if we didn’t finish it… we did and another glass each. When we got back to Oli’s apartment he suggested a night cap of the Opuntia Crema (cactus liqueur) he had in the fridge. It was thick, fruity and ever so slightly cloudy – a bit like a sweet aloe vera.
Just one glass of course – ha ha, no, half the bottle!
Anyway, a couple of days later I looked all round the Boqueria for Prickly Pears without much success,
but I did come across some Higos Chumbos on the Vidal Pons stall, which looked like the fruit of a cactus. Stupidly I’d neglected to look up the Spanish name for Prickly Pear before going shopping and the Higos Chumbos were expensive, so I thought I’d go home, look it up and come back the next day.
When I went back to the Boqueria, Vidal Pons no longer had Higos Chumbos, which turned out to be exactly what I’d been looking for. Undeterred, I scoured all the stalls and got very lucky.
Fruits Micó had some much better looking Higos Chumbos for half the price! I didn’t hesitate this time.
Walking back to Oli’s with my purchase I realised that the cactus liqueur we’d been drinking several nights perviously was made with Prickly Pear and there were even Opunti cacti growing on the roof! The thing that had thrown me all along was the translation of the Spanish name, Higos Chumbos – fig pears.
Take great care when handling Prickly Pears - if you buy them the big cactus thorns will have been removed. If not, handle with thick gloves and rub the outsides hard to get rid of the spikes. The fruit can be peeled with a knife, but even after removing the big thorns, there will still be some fine hair like spikes (they are almost invisible) which easily get into your skin. Be careful and if in doubt hold the fruit in a towel while peeling. I peeled two and had a few tiny little thorns in my hand – they took a couple of days to work their way out too!
Once peeled, the fruit tastes delicious – a bit like watermelon combined with kiwi and raspberry. Prickly Pears contain large black pips – these can be treated like apple pips – spit them out. I was told that the orange coloured fruit is ripest and best tasting – this did seem to be the case.
When I got back to London, to my surprise, the greengrocer across the street was selling Prickly Pears for the same price as those in Barcelona, however, I’m sure they weren’t as fresh, since they grow lots of them in the South of Spain.