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Harvesting Prickly Pears

If you've traveled to Greece, chances are you've seen at least one variety of the 'prickly pear' growing in the wild. Not only are these fruits a beautiful addition to the scenery, but they are also delicious! Learn more about this fruit by reading below.

What are prickly pears? Commonly referred to as frangosika in Greek (also may be referred to as pavlosika or apalosika in Greece or papoutsosika in Cyprus), the prickly pear is the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, also called nopal, which consists of a variety of flat-stemmed spiny cacti of the genus Optunia and their edible fruits. These plants grow in abundance throughout Greece and Cyprus due to the ideal climate in the country. The fruit can grow in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors but the most common is an oval shape in a color ranging from light yellow to orange to pink.

Image credit: Unique Feeling Connected via Flickr

Harvesting: Best Practices

When harvesting the fruit, it's important to be extra cautious because not only are the fruits external layers covered in thorns, but they also contain an additional layer of tiny, near invisible spines. Unfortunately, these can easily get stuck in your skin, which is a painful experience as they are difficult to remove and invisible to the naked eye.

Do not touch the fruit with your bare hands - if you are going to pick a fruit, we recommend using gloves or gardening tools to protect your hands. The fruit should be harvested at peak sweetness as it will not continue to ripen once it's been removed from the cactus, so don't plan to pick a green prickly pear - it's best to wait until it's ripened further. You can cut the fruit from the plant directly and then once you've removed the fruit from the plant, hold down the pears with a cooking utensil and use a small, sharp knife to cut off both ends before making an vertical incision down the pear and then peeling back the thick skin to reveal the sweet, juicy fruit inside.

Although many parts of this plant are edible (leaves, flowers, and fruits), my favourite part is the fleshy, sweet fruit located on the inside. My favourite way to enjoy it is to pick it and then peel the fruit and let it cool down inside the refrigerator before enjoying it as a sweet after a meal.

Kosta harvesting some frangosika in Syros Island.

For those of you who don't want to risk harvesting these fruits from the plants, you can often find them in Greek grocery stores and markets. However, even if you buy them from the shops, ensure you are being careful when you touch them as sometimes some of the spines remain behind even after they have been washed and packaged for sale.

This versatile fruit can be used for a variety of purposes. It can be consumed raw, in recipes, or made into a multiple delicious products from juice to jam to spoon sweets and many more. I love that this plant is important to so many cultures - from popular Mexican dish "nopales" to the prickly pear serving as a symbol of Sicily, I hope you'll get the chance to sample this much-loved fruit.

PS. If you've got any prickly pear recipes, please send them my way - I'm keen to try them out!


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