A Prickly Subject, Week Ending 8/30/2020

I broke down and bought prickly pears at the grocery store.

I’m not proud.

They’re imported from Mexico. This is the antithesis of “foraging” – eating hyperlocal food you’ve earned by finding it yourself.

But I just can’t find them in the wild around here, and my attempt to grow them from seed failed utterly. (I was fairly sure it was doomed from the start.) Yes, prickly pears (Opuntia humifusa) are another in my ongoing list of foraging fails.

The ones from the store are also huge – way larger than anything I’d be likely to find foraging. But I just had to know how they taste.

The prickly pear is a great plant for foraging because the pad, the fruit, and even the seeds are edible. The biggest drawback to them are the cactus’s natural protection, sharp hooked spines and the tiny glochids that lodge in your skin before you even realize they were there. (If you’re curious, you can read more about the spines and glochids here.)

Which is an even better reason to buy them at the store to try, right? So the spines and glochids aren’t there?

And yet, I still managed to get a glochid stuck in my finger while peeling the fruit. Luckily I found it and fished it out with my best tweezers. If you are sensitive to thorns and splinters – or more precisely, to the experience of removing them – you may want to wear gloves to handle even store bought prickly pear parts.

That tiny white line on my finger is a glochid embedded in my skin

Initial reactions? The color is beautiful, and I’m glad this was a large fruit because once the rind is removed there’s not much left. The texture is somewhat like a watermelon. One of my kids compared it to a dragonfruit, if you’ve ever tried eating one of those. Like a watermelon, the flavor was somewhat watery. Of course, that may be due to the long distance it traveled to reach the grocery store and then my home, like a winter-time tomato from Mexico harvested way before it was ripe.

(The other “problem” with the prickly pear fruit is that we found early pawpaws in the woods today, and nothing compares to the flavor of a fresh pawpaw!)

Moreover, I question whether those seeds are “really” edible. Maybe edible as in “won’t kill you”, but not at all enjoyable to encounter when chewing the fruit’s flesh. Like encountering hard little rocks with your teeth! I guess you are supposed to swallow them whole, like pomegranate or watermelon seeds. Pass, thanks! …which means I have plenty more seeds to try planting now!

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