Prickly Pear

opuntia ficus-indica

opuntia ficus-indica

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.

opuntia crema

opuntia crema

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.

cactus liquor

cactus liqueur

Just one glass of course – ha ha, no, half the bottle!

cactus fig

cactus fig

Anyway, a couple of days later I looked all round the Boqueria for Prickly Pears without much success,

vidal pons

vidal pons

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.

fruits micó

fruits micó

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.

higos chumbos

higos chumbos

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.

peeling prickly pear

peeling prickly pear

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!

peeled prickly pear

peeled prickly pear

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.

About Mad Dog
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41 Responses to Prickly Pear

  1. This was so interesting! Higos chumbos…very funny translation…I will have to look into them. Have never had them either!

  2. Pingback: Quail Barbecue | Mad Dog TV Dinners

  3. Eha says:

    Learning should always be fun 🙂 ! Well, getting up for a minute from the computer to dance to Baloo singing sure was . . . and I DID enjoy all the rest of the real lesson also . . . [hmm, so you have the hollow leg syndrome?] . . .

    • Mad Dog says:

      That one was definitely fun and Jungle Book’s probably my favourite Disney film – the songs and characters are brilliant. I definitely like a drink too 😉

  4. Ruth says:

    Very informative for me. Love reading about your prickly pear adventure MD.

  5. Hee hee – am now humming the song too! Yes, higos chumbos or just plain old chumbos…we love them! This year we managed to gorge ourselves on them but by the end of September the only ones left were in really inaccessible places (hence they hadn’t been picked). We saw some in Jersey the other week and i was curious as to where they came from (never found out) as the Spanish ones are pretty much over by now. Thanks for the links!

    • Mad Dog says:

      It’s all your fault, but I’m glad I saw them on your blog – they taste amazing! I wonder if they grow them in the south of France and there’s a later season than in Spain? Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  6. sally says:

    Thanks for the Jungle Book references, when I was 6 I thought it was the best thing ever, not much has changed, I think it might still be in my all time top ten movies and definitely best musical! What cool cats.

  7. Tessa says:

    I love prickly pears! I am fortunate to be able to find them here in Southern Oregon. Very unique texture and taste.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Excellent – I read on one of the links that they are quite hardy and can grow in Southern Canada, but I imagine that the warmer it gets the bigger the fruit grows 🙂

  8. Amanda says:

    Good stuff. I like these prickly pears a lot. Nothing beats a day of shopping at the boqueria and a little drinking!

  9. ChgoJohn says:

    I’ve yet to try prickly pears, MD. I thought they were imported from Mexico — my love for Jungle Book notwithstanding. Apparently, these pears get around. 🙂

  10. andreamynard says:

    Have seen these growing in Sicily but haven’t eaten, let alone drunk, one – mad now that I missed the chance. The liquer looks wonderful.

  11. Conor Bofin says:

    Great story. I have been that soldier so many times. Now I know about those prickly pears!

  12. Karen says:

    I haven’t ever had one but hear that they are great in a margarita.

  13. cecilia says:

    you have the constitution of an ox. i have seen these pears around and have not tried them, they sound divine.. loved the rather worn looking bottle. i am trying to find a pie that one of my readers mentioned. she said it was like a pork pie with whole eggs and was sold by the slice, in the uk.. any ideas? c

  14. Hi Mad Dog! I came over from Cecilia’s place, as I was right with ye on your comment. I’m very sad to say that I grew up in Florida, and these things were quite common – and no one ate them. I would just end up stuck all over from my refusal to wear shoes! I did pull and eat wild heart of Palm as a kid, my favourite foraging treat!

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