The Skinny on Prickly Pears – Fichi d’India

Ever since I published these photos, I know our good friend Gil has been wondering about whether the prickly pears (fichi d’India) are ripe, and well, I’m happy to announce, the time has arrived (see left)!

So for today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday, a quick lesson in prickly pears.

The prickly pear, or fico d’India in Italian, is the fruit that grows on the end of cacti like in the photo. Those of you in southwestern US and various other hot, cactus-bearing places know this fruit well, I’m sure, but for the rest of you, the most important thing to keep in mind:


Yeah, the “prickly” in the name might have given you that clue, but it’s not what you think. It’s not the spines on the cactus that are prickly, it’s the tiny, nearly invisible hair-like spines that are *all over* the fruit that cause the trouble–and they are nearly impossible to wash off of you once they’re on. Trust me. It’s like having pins and needles all over your hands, and so not fun.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t clean these. This is P’s job, and although some people soak them in water beforehand is advisable, I’ve never seen him do it. He’s just really, really skilled with a knife, but I still suggest you wear gloves and watch this video to see some pros at work.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with prickly pears, you’re probably wondering what they taste like. Well, um, they’re unique. They’re sweet but not too sweet, kind of a cross between a fig and, I don’t know, a plum maybe?

One thing I can say is that they are very seedy, and no, I don’t mean like from a questionable part of town, I mean like this:

And truth be told, this is my favorite way to eat them. Fresh, seeds and all.

Another popular way to prepare them is in jams or marmalades; you’ll find countless recipes for those with a quick Google search.

But for some unique recipes, check out these from fellow bloggers:

Buon appetito!

32 Beans of Wisdom to “The Skinny on Prickly Pears – Fichi d’India”
  1. 08.27.2008

    Oh, my. What beautiful deliciousness. My favorite way to eat them is chilled and plain. The cold, subtly sweet flesh and the seeds crunching between my teeth…

    pizzocalabro’s last blog post..In Which My Quest to Make My Blog Truly Alone and Unobserved Proceeds Apace

    Oh yes, chilled is a must…I kind of just swallow the seeds without thinking too much about it, actually…kinda like tapioca pudding. If I think too much about the lumps, it’s not as fun an experience for me.

  2. 08.27.2008

    My favorite!!! At my family’s ranch, we like to eat them with lime and salt πŸ™‚

    Hey, I thought you didn’t like them too much? If I remember correctly, last year you gave me your life’s allotted portion of prickly pears πŸ™‚

    I think before I just hadn’t had really good ones, or I had *exceptionally* good ones this year, because I thoroughly enjoyed them this summer. I’m willing to try them again (especially if P’s cleaning!)…if you’ll allow me just a handful from my life’s allotment back πŸ˜‰

  3. Gil

    I’m going to have to look for them here in the US. I can’t remember how long it has been since I tasted a prickly pear.

    Hope you find some good ones Gil!

  4. 08.27.2008

    Pretty! Salad ingredient with a lemon vinaigrette?

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Works on me

    Sounds delicious to me Judith!

  5. Now I wish I’d had this post to hand last year before D plucked some prickly pears from a neighbour’s cactus! Poor man was in a state for days trying to find ways of getting those nasty fine hairs from his hands.
    We get them here, I’ve never bought them because I’ve never known how to handle or prepare them. Your post is a real boon! Thanks for sharing!

    Absolute Vanilla… (& Atyllah)’s last blog post..Zebras for Baino (KNP6)

    They are the strangest little things, aren’t they? I mean, they’re not spines, but they’re so darn prickly! I hope the next round goes *much* better for D πŸ™‚

  6. 08.27.2008

    Yum! I much prefer the red ones to the yellow ones.
    My Dad has always been the cleaner and he never soaks them either. I must say I have never seen recipes incorporating them I have only eaten them fresh seeds and all.
    Off to check out the recipes.

    Vee’s last blog post..Feeling blah

    Vee, I think I had only had the yellow ones before, and that’s why I didn’t like them very much…the red ones are fabulous πŸ™‚

  7. 08.27.2008

    Now I am curious! I have never had these. are the seeds like raspberries and blackberries or bigger.

    City Girl’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday — Onion-Smothered Cheese-Studded Turkey Burgers

    The seeds are quite huge, IMHO. A good-sized watermelon seed is comparable, only these are round and fuller, if that makes sense.

  8. 08.27.2008

    I love both the taste and the colour of a prickly pear. I recall that I took one on a hike with my wife (still dating at the time) and we had it for lunch. It was winter and the contrast of the pear against the snow was amazing.

    running42k’s last blog post..Stolen

    That sounds so wonderful! No wonder why she married you πŸ˜‰

  9. Mary

    Well, I have to admit, I’ve tried prickly pears, but I’m not a big fan of them. But, maybe the ones I had (bought in the supermarket) weren’t the best examples.

    Mary, I had some rather uninspiring prickly pears my first time out as well; if they were the yellow kind that you had, I *highly* recommend trying the red as well. If they were red, well, perhaps they just weren’t ripe enough. These were quite a bit tastier than the blah yellow ones I first had πŸ™‚

  10. 08.27.2008

    Yep, don’t be a dummy like me and rub your hands all over them on a dare…lol.
    Hmmm…yummy delicious fruit.

    Lucy’s last blog post..Knit? I Can’t Knit! Not Even With A Kit!

    OUCH is right Lucy!

  11. 08.27.2008

    I’ve never had them raw – they look and sound very refreshing! In fact, it’s been years since I had them at all.. Reminds me of visiting my grandma in New Mexico as a kid. πŸ™‚ ~Tui

    mentalmosaic’s last blog post..Heavy Metal Monk and a Beauty Pageant for Nuns

    When chilled, they are very refreshing indeed Tui; glad you have such nice memories attached to them (as opposed to Lucy’s above) πŸ˜‰

  12. 08.27.2008

    They look like something I’d want to let drip off my chin!


    Butterfly Mama’s last blog post..Just call me Queen of the Squash

    They can be juicy little suckers Heidi!

  13. 08.27.2008

    I am sorry to say, they don’t look very appetizing to me. Texture and appearance are what I use to judge whether I will like a certain food or not. I guess I am a picky eater. I don’t know if I would try these or not. Maybe if they were hidden in something.

    I know, I should try everything once…my parents tried to teach me this and so has my husband…they still haven’t convinced me.

    Thotlady’s last blog post..How to waste an entire day without really trying!

    I can totally respect that Thotlady. Unless someone had peeled them and set them in front of me, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to try them either. They are an interesting fruit to say the least, though, (even their name is fun!) so I’m glad I took the plunge πŸ™‚

  14. 08.27.2008

    I must admit that it is something I have never tried…the fruit that is. The “leaves” are a common dish south of the border and you can find them some of the Mexican markets here on occasion. Being from the hills of Virginia where they are not found I guess I have missed something. I will have to look around for them because the do look tasty and yes “figgy” which I dearly love. Thanks for the information.

    Mmm figs…don’t get me started….

  15. I’ve always wondered about those things–what a great post/picture. I wish I could see what they taste like because I’m having a hard time imagining it.

    Michelle at Scribbit’s last blog post..Making Music with a Homemade Chime

    It’s really a unique flavor, Michelle, so you’ll just have to come here and try it; be sure to come when they’re in season, though…late August is good πŸ˜‰

  16. 08.27.2008

    Wow! Learn something new every day… especially here! ;o)
    Didn’t know what they looked like, how to handle them or what could be done with them.
    This is good to know!

    I can see it now… shooting a story somewhere on the other side of the world, in some remote place and I am camped out and running low on supplies… and then, lo and behold, there’s the prickly pear cactus growing, and because I learned this from you, I am SAVED!


    Don’tcha think?

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..Watching Whale Rights

    Hah! So long as you have your Swiss Army knife with you, you should be fine. A pair of rubber gloves wouldn’t hurt either, but who *doesn’t* carry those around? πŸ˜‰

  17. 08.27.2008

    We had prickly pear gelato in Vernazza and it was sooooo tasty!

    Sara’s last blog post..Gramma’s

    Ooh that sounds lovely!

  18. 08.27.2008

    You can also make a Prickly Pear Margaurita. Very tasty.

    Ice Tea For Me’s last blog post..what’s cooking wednesday – pesto sauce

    Ooh great idea…I’m sure Cherrye would love that too!

  19. Carole DeSimone

    One of my favorite fruit eaten cold. Of course, I never buy them in the States.
    Can’t remember the last time I had them. August is a great month to visit Sicily just for the fichi d’India.

    I’d definitely recommend end of August…not only b/c the fichi d’India will be riper but also a lot of the tourists will be gone πŸ˜‰

  20. 08.27.2008

    They are both tasty and beautiful too!!

    sadira’s last blog post..And The Winner Is…

    The colors are really amazing, aren’t they?

  21. Enza

    yummmmmy! Love them!

    By the way I have been thinking about u the last few days. I am reading a wonderful book called “The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken” and every time i pick it up to read it i think about u and your Italian recipes!! Happy Wednesday!

    Yes, I’ve read it too! Been meaning to write a review or even an author interview…hope you’re enjoying it too πŸ™‚

  22. 08.28.2008

    This is fascinating, Michelle. I’ve always wanted to know more about them!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday: All The World’s a Cake…

    Glad to help Jen πŸ™‚

  23. 08.28.2008

    I have never tried them, but I think I;d be interested. They sound good. Gotta see if somebody has them here.

    My MΓ©lange’s last blog post..Tour del Gelato: GROM

    They’re definitely…interesting Robin! Let me know if you find some πŸ™‚

  24. 08.28.2008

    Except for the name I don’t really associate these with true figs at all. Both are delicious and both are full of seeds, but the flavor, texture and look are completely different. As I mentioned above I prefer my fichidindia chilled, but my favorite way to eat a true fig is straight from the tree, still warm from the sun.

    The prickly-pear margarita sounds delicious, btw.

    pizzocalabro’s last blog post..Upcoming Events @ the Salt Lake City Public Library

    Yeah I’d say the sweetness is the only thing that remotely links them, but it’s such a different sweet anyway…and I like my figs *and* fichi d’India chilled. I’m just chill that way πŸ˜‰

  25. 08.29.2008

    Thanks for linking to me!! I absolutely love prickly pears and I am trying to think of more ways I can use them. I too, love just eating them plain with the seeds and all. The guy at the farmer’s market told me the seeds are cleansing!

    Ooh I like the cleansing theory! *Almost* makes me want to go clean some πŸ˜‰

  26. 08.30.2008

    Thanks for the tips. Now I’ll know what to do if I come across one!

    Shan’s last blog post..friday flashback – that famous zipcode

    You’re very welcome, although I can’t imagine you’ll see many of these in the wild where you live πŸ˜‰

  27. Jeanne A

    When I was a kid growing up in Ethiopia we used to eat these. Where I live in the US they don’t grow and are unavailable. This post made me so homesick. In Ethiopia we lived in the semi-arid part—I’ve found that not all people in Ethiopia even know what they are or how to eat them.

    We were spoiled, though. We bought them already devoid of the “prickles.” Every once and awhile might have slipped through—that was nasty.

    Thanks for the memories.

    Glad to remind you of something sweet Jeanne πŸ™‚

  28. 09.03.2008

    I’ve always been afraid to try them! Well, not afraid to eat them..afraid to spend the money on them and then let them sit while I figure out how to eat the darned things ! Thanks πŸ™‚

    Bob’s last blog post..Fresh picked corn and a veggie stir fry

    I hope it all goes well Bob!

  29. 09.04.2008

    Gorgeous photos! The second one looks like a sunset πŸ™‚

    SavoryTv’s last blog post..Chef David McMillan makes clams and halibut with a black bean chorizo sauce

    Thanks πŸ™‚

  30. 02.11.2010

    Hi Michelle!

    I’m glad you’ve had a better tasting experience than I have with fichi d’India. I tried them here in the States. They’re huge, but did not taste very sweet, and I got them at a store that usually has great fruits and vegetables. My ex was so excited when he saw them at the store here. They’re very expensive though! My ex’s parents have huge old cacti, but the fichi weren’t ready to be picked yet when I was visiting last summer.

    But figs… Oh my gosh! So good! I had never tried them until I went to Italy. My friends and I went to Capri and our boat’s captain brought some on-board for us. Delicious!

    Hope all is well over in Italy!

    Figs are without a doubt one of my most favorite foods in the world…thanks to Italy πŸ™‚

  31. Myrna

    The pears are obviously have spines that might cause you trouble once you touch them with your bare hands. I did not know about it that it can be cooked, I just had it knew that it can be great for salad. Well, I guess theres a lot that I need to know which I may find interested and for some reasons will be my best habit.

    Happy Blogging everyone.:)

    michelle Reply:

    Hope you enjoy, Myrna πŸ™‚



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