O, Sweet Danger

October 23, 2010

Forests of prickly pears glitter with sunset-colored fruit: burning orange and deepest pink. The fall crop is so abundant in Sicily that most of it plops down onto roadways to rot in the sun—roadkill for nectar-seeking wasps and honeybees.

Sicilian prickly pears, copyright Jann Huizenga

I gave the prickly pear, called fico d’india—literally, fig of India—the cold shoulder for quite a while after my first experience peeling one. Who knew to put on gloves? The invisible barbs lodged deep into my fingertips. I spend hours armed with tweezers squinting on my sunlit balcony, extracting them one by one.

But now I’ve found a happy solution: I drink my prickly pears.

Either in liqueur form …

Sicilian prickly pear liqueur, copyright Jann Huizenga

… Or in sweet granita—seeds and all. It tastes like watermelon juice imbued with banana-y blood oranges. Of course I worried that a prickly pear plant would sprout in my stomach after this granita, but so far so good.

Sicilian prickly pear granita, copyright Jann Huizenga

Have you tried the prickly creatures? Discovered a danger-free way to eat them?


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13 comments to O, Sweet Danger

  • I was shown this technique by a man at the Catania outdoor market. He placed the piece of fruit on the ground and rolled in under his boot enough to knock off the thorns. He picked it up with his bare hands after that (I would still suggest gloves), cut the ends off of end and then made one slice down the length of the skin of the fruit. In one shot was able to peel the entire skin off. Hope it works for you!

    • Jann

      Very funny… I must try! I have a floor that stains easily, so I will take them outside onto the sidewalk and let the whole neighborhood watch.

  • Our granddaughter Francesca was introduced to prickly pears in school while studying Native Americans, and after a summer trip to Ragusa, imagine her surprise when she recognized a bowlful in our kitchen in the U.S.! We explained that they are a symbol of Sicily but that they originally came from the “New World”. A few days ago she came home from school and showed us several test scores of 100 and one 95 saying with glee: “Nonna, this deserves a prickly pear!” so, I happily peeled one for her. (I doubt that there was another child in Cliffside Park who considers fichi d’India such a special reward) They are easily available from California at our local New Jersey market and they are very sweet, so I buy them whenever I find them, and Francesca and I enjoy them often as snacks in between trips to Sicily.

  • Hi Jann!

    I have tried fichi d’India, but the ones that they sell here in the US are not any good. Unfortunately, last time I was in Italy, they were not ripe yet, so I was not able to try them. Although I haven’t personally cut my own fichi, I was made aware of the spines that it has. Also, one should not eat to many, as they will go in one end, and not come out the “other”, if you know what I mean.

    Here’s a link to another blog that has steps as to how to peel them.


  • Emalene Renna

    I bought some fici d’india at a stall on my way to a trattoria for pranzo. I didn’t know of the DANGER. I touched the fici d’india
    In the bag when I got to the trattoria my hands ached. I saw a beautiful bowl of fici d’inia in a bowl and explained
    my dilemma
    To the waiter
    I said it all in Italian, he didn’t understand a word of English. He laughed poured a tablespoon of salt in my hands.
    He told me to rub my hands together hard and wash my hands. I was instantly cured.
    Love Ragusa

  • Ouch! The first experience sounds painful. I’ve never tried these before but I’ll keep an eye for it now!

  • Cathy

    To my mind, anything is palatable in liqueur form……. 🙂

  • amy

    Recently had my first encounter with a prickly pear. Our host had peeled them and set them out. He eats his seeds & all, so I tried it. The meat does taste good but all those seeds just ruined it for me. Maybe I would like the liqueur form you mentioned in your post…

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