Prickly pears! Less weird than you think, people. Have you had them? If I think about it, I’ve probably seen them skulking around my grocer’s “exotic produce” section for years now. Considering what my grocer deems “exotic,” it almost definitely means you can find them in your area; if you live in California, the Southwest, Michigan (I swear) or Florida, chances are high you’ll wander by them at some point. They may not always look like the google search I know you just did for “images: prickly pears” – those swollen, burgundy orbs are what you’d find if you lived next door to the cacti which produce them – but give them a chance no matter color they are.
This is going to be a short one, because I cover their facts and figures in my Feast article this month. In my humble opinion, the pears are a fabulous way to ring in the (almost) fall: a perfect transitional flavor that combines the intensity and brashness of summer flavor with a deeper richness I reserve for cooler temperatures. Whirl it up into a gorgeous late-summer margarita while you can: it’s certainly one of the best classic ways to showcase the fruit. Oddly enough, this one was a more difficult ingredient to work with in terms of an actual recipe: it’s one of those things you just don’t want to mess with much since the freshness is its everything. I went with an exceedingly practical jam, and tucked it into some lime thumbprint cookies: it’s fresh times two, if you make the pair together (which I suggest you do). Feeling lazy? No desire to turn on the oven yet? Cool by me, but I implore you to make the prickly pear jam if you see some ripe prickly pears near you: it’s a great way to capture their freshness and extend the time you have with them. I didn’t make the jam to go with the cookies: rather, I made the cookies to complement the jam. You can truly use it in any way you would use a jam or preserves: toast (highly recommend), Danish pastries (an unexpected delight), swirled into ice cream or sorbet (magic), or sandwiched in between cake layers (yessss.) A double hit of citrus and a splash of tequila makes the jam vibrant and exciting, yet perfectly acceptable for everyday use.
Here’s the thing with prickly pears: you have to be patient with them. There are several different types of them, ranging in color from green to gold to purple when they ripen, so you may want to talk to the produce manager when you see them; they may be better able to inform you of the specifics. I favor the purple ones which are slightly soft and heavy when lifted, but not mushy or wrinkled. But that’s a ripe prickly pear: often times, you’ll see the green ones which (theoretically) will ripen into the purple orbs you’re dreaming of. Word of caution: this doesn’t always happen correctly, because some pears are indeed green or gold rather than purple when ripe, and others…honestly, I think they get picked too early and they just don’t love this part of the Midwest. So choose wisely, get help from your knowledgeable produce person, or simply wait until you see ripe ones. If you’re from any of the places above, chances are you can walk outside your door and pick these things, so none of this applies to you; if you’re from where I’m from, you’re going to need to strategize. Pro tip: avail yourself of an international or Latin market for these: generally they have the best prickly pears in stock, they tend to be in stock more often, and the produce manager will know for sure how to help you pick the best ones of the pile.
Go read my wee article on these and grab the recipe for the prickly pear margarita cookies while there: I also give you very important safety tips on working with these, no matter where you are: they’re from a cactus plant, so you can guess the phrase “handle with care” comes into play. I can say from personal experience that I’m forgotten this a time or two when buying prickly pears, and have paid the price in very uncomfortable palms. If you’re in the Midwest, chances are you’re getting fruit that has been more carefully stripped of any fiercely annoying glochids than if you lived closer to where they’re grown: I’ve had less of a problem getting stuck locally than I have when I’ve been in say, Florida, where buyers are more familiar, but be careful no matter where you are.
As always, my article on these lives here, and while you’re there, roam around! There are lots of things to see this month, but I haven’t been able to sit down with my own magazine yet to pick my favorite things. Guess what, though: you no longer have to wait for me to tell you whats inside, because now? Subscriptions available! Cheaper than me sending them to you each month, and also you’d actually get them on time versus weeks later. Feast goes regional next month with the October issue, which means more pages, expanded coverage of the area, and more things for you to drool over.
And if you’re just in the mood to veg it out on the sofa, watch the September episode of Feast TV; you’ll still have to go look at my Prickly Pear Margarita Cookies recipe online or in the print edition, but it’s a fun and relaxing half hour of television. Soothing, even, for culinary-minded people like us.
In case you missed the 827 links to my article, here it is. Next up: some oddly delicious cookies and a post-birthday tutorial or two.