Sunday, March 3, 2013

Foraging for Prickly Pears

During his tea break this morning, my ever-helpful son ran up the hill and collected a bucket of prickly pears for me, well, for a bit of financial reward. This interesting fruit has always intrigued me the way they grow on the end of the cactus leaves, like jewels. 

Inspired by my beautiful recipe book, Prickly Pears and Pomegranates by Bernadette Le Roux and Marianne Palmer, I decided that today my family could dine on this sweet, veld delicacy. I spent quite some time peeling them with a knife and fork to avoid the fine hairs that can be as irritating as fibre glass under your skin, and which my boy had succeeded in imbedding in his fingers in spite of the recommended tin-can-and-stick method to extricate the fruit from the cactus.


One third were chilled until lunchtime, then enjoyed in their juicy, fresh, unadulterated sweetness for dessert. Their seeds, much like a guava, are very hard, so one has to chew them carefully. 

The second third were cooked up into a translucent syrup with an unusual, tangy sweetness that had me licking fingers and the spoon. This is another pantry treat to be saved for special occasions. I can imagine it poured over flapjacks topped with fresh fruit and yoghurt, dolloped on waffles or drizzled over custard ice-cream.

The final third are decorating our dining table in a beautiful, locally crafted, Mud Studio, yellow pottery bowl.

It is easier to forage in the countryside, but even in the city, there are interesting foods to be found if you open your eyes. Reminiscing back to when we lived in the city, some Cape Town treasures that I can think of are:
Black mussels picked off the rocks at low tide
Mushrooms in the pine forests
Dandelions in the fields
Pears dropping off a lone tree on a popular walk
Friends and family with unused fruit on their trees.
Sour figs that grow wild on the sand dunes and make a cheek-sucking, tart preserve
Eugenia berries in the hedges
Chestnuts underfoot in the older suburbs
Pine nuts if the squirrels didn't get them first
Fennel in abundance on certain pavements I know
Figs hanging over a neighbour's wall
And fish, of course.

And then when we visit my sister in the foothill pine plantations of the Drakensberg Mountains there is hunting, trout fishing, mushroom foraging and berry picking.

What is free for the foraging where you live?

Edited to add:  I have realised that I am one of the 1% of people allergic to prickly pears. Eating them makes my chest tight. The more I ate, the tighter my chest became, and my lips became tingly and numb. I am terribly disappointed, as I had all sorts of plans for prickly pear wine, prickly pear ice-cream, and other concoctions. A bit of internet research also revealed that the leaves are edible, and frequently used in Mexican cuisine. Prickly pears are apparently useful in helping diabetes and high cholesterol. 


  1. oh dear, pity about the allergy!

  2. There is a big prickly pear cactus on the way down Firgrove and we often think about stopping and collecting a few but then I always think that passersby will think we are a bit batty. But soon will come the bramble berries at the jump track and the mulberries on the trees.

    May will bring pine rings in the forest...yum!