What springs to my mind when I think of Puglia are the following things – clear blue seas, white sand, good food and prickly pears! These jungle book-esq cacti are found adorning the Southern Italian coastline. The pale green paddle leaves hold up their fruit like trophies. They present lusciously vibrant pink ovals that are just screaming to be picked. Be careful though, touch this bounty with your bare hands and you will be trying to get the tiny cacti needles out of your skin for weeks.
Prickly pears, or their Italian name fico d’India, are ready to eat in August through to October. I would describe their taste as a sweet, tropical watermelon with edible seeds. Like all cacti they grow well in a dry climate, which is why I associate them with Puglia so much.
On a previous trip, I was doing my best to explain prickly pears to our friends who were visiting us. A moment later my Uncle jumped onto his roof where a cacti was resting it’s head, chopped it off and brought it to us. That’ll be what they are then… My Auntie preceded to prepare it for us. She cut off the fruit with a knife and dropped them into a bowl of water to soak them, making sure not to touch them. After a few minutes she picked them up and peeled them. We ate them there and then, still warm from the midday sun – you can’t get fresher than that. Although they do taste better when they’ve been cooled for a few hours. But our mouths were just too eager to try the juicy pink harvet.