Now living in Cyprus I like to be adventurous with trying new food so one day when I saw a lady in the supermarket picking up some fruit with some tongs I thought I would buy some to try, not really having a clue as to what they were. I thought the tongs were being used for purely hygienic reasons and so followed the example and picked mine up with the tongs. However, when I got home I took one out of the bag to show my husband – Big Mistake! I quickly realised that all the prickles (now I know them to be called glochids) had embedded themselves into my hands like splinters. It took me several days to pluck them all out with tweezers, they are so fine that you cannot see them but you certainly feel them! Now I realise why the tongs were being used. I then dumped the fruit in the bin as did not want to endure any further pain due to my lack of knowledge!
A few days later we visited some friends in the Troodos and I was explaining what had happened and asked them if they knew what the fruit was called – they are known as `prickly pears’ and their Latin name is the Opuntia. They grow everywhere in Cyprus and the fruits are abundant; you can also buy them in supermarkets. The fruit is normally ready for harvest during late Summer August/September. Our friend explained and demonstrated the use of a special tool to pick them to avoid getting splintered and advised to make sure you do not pick them on a windy day otherwise splinters/prickles could go in your eyes and cause serious problems. Then once picked you cannot handle so to peel you stick a fork in one end and then cut away the prickly skin with a knife and scrape into a bin, avoiding touching! Then you are left with a delicious fleshy juicy fruit, however you do need to eat them more or less straight away as they rapidly lose their nutritional value and can ferment once peeled.
There are also some medical studies which state the prickly pear helps reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and the pectin in the fruit can help reduce diabetic’s insulin requirements. I would imagine they would also be a good trespasser deterrent if planted strategically by garden walls/fences.