October 12, 2015
They’re natives of the Americas, the mean spiky fruits. But prickly pear cacti have flourished in Sicily’s climate. You have to dodge them here–they rise 20 feet tall and come at you from all directions. Lured by a poster, we decided yesterday to celebrate the fruit I fear.
They paid homage to the fruit in the tiny town of Pedagaggi. They ate it fresh, candied, mashed into marmalade, and cooked into mostarda— something like prickly pear gummy bears. They drank it in liqueur.
In my early innocent days on the island, I bought several of the fruits and blithely peeled them, glove-less. For days afterwards my fingertips prickled with pain, as I sat in the sun pulling out ultra-fine spines with a tweezers. I have shunned the fruit since.
This bearded fellow explained that his hands are so calloused from the fields he has no need for gloves. But his wife came well-equipped. Every Sicilian has a story about American GIs in WWII, who plucked the fruit right off the plant and bit into it. This makes them laugh.
Food festivals in Sicily always attract a biker crowd, clad in old denim and black leather. They’re always the life of the party.