Photo by Gayla Trail

Paddle cactus are some of my favourite plants. Hmmmm… Perhaps that phrase does not carry much weight anymore since I seem to say it quite a lot really. However, I love the way they develop and morph into fascinating, anthropomorphic shapes. Their flowers are beautiful and their fruit (cactus pear or “tuna” in Mexico) are delicious although a little bit seedy. I gorge myself on them every October when they come into season.

The best way to eat the fruit is to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. You can make it into a drink or sorbet too but that’s too much work. Just watch those teeny loose hairs (called ‘glochids’). The big spines are easy to see and avoid but no matter how careful and precise I am when handling the plant or fruit I always find myself with one or two microscopic hairs embedded into my hand or a finger. And they are relentless; aggravating and impossible to extract without a magnifying glass and a pair of precision tweezers.

While in Cuba, I picked a small fruit from another plant nearby, placing it in my room’s mini-fridge with the hope of tasting it later. I thought I had been careful but of course there was a hair and no pair of tweezers with which to extract it. I never did find a knife or utensil to cut the fruit open and it froze in the fridge anyways.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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One thought on “Opuntia

  1. Hi we always have prickly pears, im italian australian, we call them figarinia its an italian corruption of “fig of india” ( im not sure why though beecause theyre not indian are they). My nonnos garden is full of the plants, he wears gloves to pick them or he buys boxes of them from the markets pink, yellow and white ones. He skins them with a kinfe and you eat it like an apple you just have to get past the seeds dont you. They are really great icy cold from the fridge but they stain your clothes really badly.

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