Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear -

A title popularly applied to the edible fruit of a great many members of the Opuntia family of Cactus, now represented by one or more kinds in nearly every part of the world. They may be generally described as fleshy shrubs or trees, often of great size, with wide stems and succulent branches. In Mexico and Sicily, the fruit constitutes a large part of the diet of entire communities during the main season of productiveness, the plants being also effectively employed as hedgerows.

Prickly Pears are found in red, yellow, purple and various other colors. They vary from pear-shape to round, and from an ounce to a pound or more in weight - the most common types ranging from one to three inches in diameter. The skin is, in nearly all varieties, marked by bunches of the small spicules or spines which are responsible for their popular title. As a rule, the best are those with the thinnest skins and fewest spicules. The purplish-red Tuna Cardona and the Tuna Amarilla, or Yellow Tuna, are the most highly esteemed.

The fruit is eaten raw - plain or in salads, etc. - and preserved or pickled with lemons or other fruits. In the Southwest, the purple tunas are frequently employed to color jellies. The pulp generally contains a number of seeds sufficiently large in size to be objectionable to the average American - who consequently prefers the fruit in preserved and other forms for which they have been expressed - but the Mexican eats the entire pulp and part of the skin, the spines being previously removed from the latter by rubbing, etc. The flavor is usually rather weak but is distinctly refreshing to the palate, and the food value is as high as of most fruits of popular consumption.

The Mexicans, after expressing the seeds, cook or evaporate the pulp to various degrees, producing a syrup known as Tuna Honey; a moderately stiff paste called Melcocha, and a very thick paste or cheese similar to plum or guava cheese. They also dry the fruit and make a fermented beverage from it.

Because of their rapid growth and prolific fruit-bearing habits, the Opuntia cacti present greater commercial and economic possibilities than those of any other genus. Many experiments are being made with the hope of improving the best varieties so as to make them more generally serviceable, as they flourish in soil and other conditions unfavorable to general plant growth. The development of the Spineless Cactus, which has no thorns on the fruit, portends a much wider use - the coarser grades for cattle-feed and the finer for human consumption. recent banquet in Seattle, Wash., demonstrated its versatile utility by its appearance on the menu in nine different forms.

The Prickly Pear is generally known in England as the "Indian Fig."

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