Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who Put the Prick in the Prickly Pear?

There's one stall at my local farmer's market where you can find some exotic fruits and vegetables. I usually pass by and inquire, "Bu ne?" and the young man will rattle off a few pithy phrases about improving your health or he will string together a few unknown words (I assume they are ailments or obscure body parts). That usually shuts me up. If the color, shape or price appeals to me, I think,"what the hell" (which is usually, after all, the right answer to most questions) and I purchase a kilo or half of something unusual.
It was here I found last year's delicate Japanese pears, sweet as syrup and crisp as a late autumn apple. (LINK) prickly_pearR
:Last week, I stopped in. Initially a sad looking display of overripe avocados drew me over but I saw that not one of them could be salvaged. I don't think many Turkish farmers know what to make of avocado. They look like a fruit but they aren't sweet. The taste confuses them, i suppose. With no hope there, I instead found a fruit that I had heard about a lot but had never tasted. Cactus fruit or prickly pear, about the size and shape of a lemon but with a deep rose-maroon color (normally). The ones on display were slightly greenish and probably immature. 
Curiosity overtook me and I picked one up and examined it. It had no smell and was as firm as an orange. Interesting, I recall thinking, and the price was reasonable. Immediately, however, I realized my mistake. The palm and fingers of my hand were covered in fine, indeed nearly invisible , spikes, no thicker than a human hair.
I turned to the man standing next to me, who was holding one, and tried to warn him with one of my copyrighted expressions of revulsion and irritation. Perhaps it only works on students because it didn't seem to register. (Maybe he was used to people looking at him that way, who knows?) In any case, I took my bag of those anti-social critters and continued shopping.
The pain under the skin was a cross between splinters and shards of glass, meaning you only actually feel it when something brushes over the spike. On the palm of the hand or in between fingers, of course, that is a constant sensation. I tried to take a closer look at the spikes but in the dim light of the market, and with my blurry vision (both with and without my glasses) what I saw did not compare with what I was feeling.
By the time I arrived home, I was about to go nuts. My mind raced, searching for solutions. (You think I might be dramatizing a bit?) I tried soap with the theory, the spikes could be coaxed out with some lubrication and splashes of water. That didn't do much good. Then some baby oil. Still not much relief. Then I tried to remove them with a pin, one at a time. Even I didn't have much confidence for that approach.
Still worse, the cactus fruit I had purchased were still scattering spikes every time I tried to move them. I put on my pink rubber gloves (note to self: must remember to buy a larger size next time) and decided to rid of those devilish spikes once and for all. After washing them thoroughly under the tap, i remained unconvinced. So I impaled them, one by one and roasted them on the stove to burn off the harpoons.
Now, I whispered, time for a taste. I peeled one of them and took a sample. What a wretched disappointment. I wouldn't say it was bitter or acidy, but it wasn't sweet either. In fact, I couldn't taste anything really. On top of that, the inside was filled with hard seeds that seemed designed to lodge in cavities and gaps in teeth. Well, you can't judge all by the sample of one, can you? So, I peeled another and.. suddenly, incredibly.. it was the same thing. In the end, out of sheer frustration, I tossed all of them into the trash. Capricious, yes, but I never said I took disillusion well.
Over the remainder of the evening, I successfully removed all the offending spikes that I could and hoped that the remaining ones would get the hint and eventually work their way out by themselves. The next day, however, the spikes were easier to spot because the skin was a bit inflamed around each one. Great, I thought, this is exactly the way tortured poets and undiscovered writers are destined to die.
After a day of reflection, I considered the situation again in a less egocentric way and thought, that was pretty irresponsible of the fruit seller to every imbecile (meaning me) handle those prickly pears without any kind of warning. What about children? The poor eye-scratching, nostril-stroking toddlers?  
I suppose you could subscribe to the "live and learn" theory and could say, "Well, Nomad, you won't be handling strange fruit in the future, will you?" And sadly, my answer would be, "Probably I will." Why? Because when I see something different or unusual, something bright and colorful, I look at it as a mystery waiting to be solved. Curiosity always gets the better of me and I don't suppose I will ever learn.



  1. it is hard to describe what something tastes like. after all it takes like itself. yet, i think you can say they taste like kiwis pretty much.

  2. Thanks, Vlad. I may have been exaggerating this incident somewhat.

  3. @ Jedi
    I think they must have harvested these a bit too soon. Aren't they supposed to be dark red? Anyway, by the time I tasted them, I was already pretty fed up with the mess.
    Mangos can be messy to eat but it's a fun mess. No pain involved.

  4. It is called "babutsa" in cyprus and cypriots Turkish and Greek loves it but requires delicate handling. It also should be eaten when it is fully ripen and straight from the fridge.

  5. All the photos I saw online showed very dark red fruit so I guessed the ones I had bought were immature. (like me!) I saw somebody had made a smoothie out of them and it is said to be loaded with anti-oxidants and healthiness.
    By the way, thanks Nicomedian for visiting. I hope you will be a regular follower!

  6. Isn't it interesting how they don't tell you what the strange plant is right away, but instead right away launch into the health benefits to various organs? At the ekolojic pazar, a lot of stalls were selling what must have been wilcrafted herbs (a nice way to say weeds, though they are usually quite healthy and not bad-tasting). Mostly I just wanted to know their names and how to cook them (just like spinach in most cases, but it was fun).

    A lot stalls in the spring sell nettle, which is pretty tasty. LE plunged his hand into a bunch, and forever after that, for each plant he sees in the market, he asks if it can hurt him. So I guess it just takes one time.

  7. Oh how disappointing..but thanks for the warning..I'll steer clear if ever I see any.

    I too am disappointed at the quality and availability of avocadoes here...I was wondering whether to try growing some.

  8. Maybe I need nettles when I was a grasping child. Instead I was given Play-doh.

  9. Avocados? I used to be able to grow them from seed. Often the seed would start sprouting even as the fruit ripened. Nowadays, for some reason, none of the seeds will sprout anymore. (A modern tale of woe, huh?) I'm not sure if it's because they pick them too soon or whether they are irradiated or sprayed with something but having your own avocado plant seems much more problematic.

  10. We have "tuna" as prickly pears are called, here in Mexico. The vendors sell them, already peeled, in plastic bags, sitting on blocks of ice. They are cold, sweet, and similar to kiwi fruit. The seeds are great for digestion. You must have gotten a bad batch. Have you found "nopales" (tender cactus paddles, pared of their spines and sliced into strips). Sauteed with onion, tomato and beaten eggs, is similar to green beans, but can slime like okra.

  11. Me again. Avocados are an almost daily staple here in Mexico, mostly for guacamole. I keep the hard ones in my crisper drawer, where they slowly evenly ripen. I'll bet you have a lot of dates there, something I can never find. Ever tried a guanabana?

  12. My batch wasn't bad. I just had no idea how to actually handle them and after I did, it was too late! Turkey is fortunate beyond measure to have an abundance of fruits and vegetables due to the climate variations in the country. Avocado have no actually caught on here because the people reallly don't have any idea how to prepare them and all the details. I love them and every time I find them, I purchase as many as I can afford.
    In addition, they offer a variety of spices and oils. Ant egg oil??? (It's a depilatory, they tell me)


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