PRICKLY PEARS: PRICKLY PEARS BENEFITS AND USES: PRICKLY PEAR SALAD DRESSING RECIPE
Prickly pears come from the Opuntia family of cacti and there are more than 200 varieties in the world. They are native to arid regions and have spread to Greece and Turkey. It is said that in Greece and the islands the cacti were planted by the Venetians but this has not been proven. The fruit is known among other names as frangosyka of French figs, and elsewhere the fruit are also known locally as ‘figs’. This might be because they taste a little like a cross between a melon and a fig.
The Aztecs were cultivating them when the Spaniards arrived and they used the milky juice from the pads of the cactus mixed with honey and egg yolks as an ointment to treat burns.
In Ayurvedic medicine the plant and fruit is used to treat patients with diabetes and clinical studies have shown that the prickly pear can lower cholesterol levels and help in the treatment of patients with Type-II diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels. However it is believed at present that only the Opuntia streptacantha variety of cactus can do this.
In Chinese traditional medicine, the pads were used to dress abscesses with. Presumably, the milky juice from the cactus pads is somehow good for the skin when applied directly.
Native Americans made a syrup from the fruit and found it effective for whooping coughs and asthma. They also used the plant in other ways. They dried the fibres of the cactus and used them to weave baskets. Mats and fans, and used the woody skeleton of the plant to make furniture. They used the cactus spikes as toothpicks, so no part of the upper plant went to waste.
I think we ate prickly pears last year while in Pakistan, but what we ate wasn’t prickly, although it had a hard skin, which we peeled, to reveal a red fleshed fruit which had some fairly large seeds in it. It tasted rather like a raspberry, and we grew a cactus from the fruit, so we guess it is one of the prickly pear varieties. We bought it as “sumerkand” which might be the Pashto word for this kind of cactus fruit.
In August 2010 a newspaper article from Hurriyet the English daily newspaper in Turkey suggested that Turkey utilize its prickly pear cacti (Opuntia ficus-indica) and cultivated them in order to cash in on the demand for the fruit and to plant them in order to prevent soil erosion on slopes going down to the sea. These cacti grow in abundance along the Turkish coast. It reported that Italy exports 50,000 tons of the prickly pears every year.
To peel a prickly pear, hold it down with a fork and cut off the ends with a sharp knife, then make lengthwise cuts and peel the fruit. You can make prickly pear juice by washing the whole fruit and then put them in a pan with a cup of water. Cook over a low heat for 20-30 minutes until they are tender. Remove the hard skin and mash the fruit to a pulp then strain to use it in the recipe below.
PRICKLY PEAR SALAD DRESSING
½ cup of puree after boiling the fruit
1/3 cup sunflower or soy bean oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsps tarragon vinegar
Put all the ingredients into a jar and shake well to mix.
Pour over a fruit salad or a green one.
This has Taste and is a Treat.