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The Prickly Pear Cactus: One of the Golden Isles Best Kept Secrets

Prickly Pear CactusIf you think cacti only grow in the desert of the southwest, think again - the Prickly Pear Cactus is no stranger to the Golden Isles of Georgia.

While driving  through the Golden Isles don't be surprised if you happen to glance over and see a prickly pear cactus growing  along the side of the road, or in someone's front yard, for that matter.  Their large flat fleshy pads covered with long spines and ornately colored flowers of yellow, red, or purple make them quite a sight to behold.  The red colored fruit they produce is edible and  forms as the flowers begin to fade, usually  in early spring and continuing through the summer months.  When the fruit first appears, it is a soft shade of green. Then it turns orange, pink, and finally deep red color when completely ripe. At this stage, the skin can be peeled away to reveal a fruit that is 15% sugar and similar in taste and texture to a kiwi with "bb-sized" seeds embedded throughout. The seeds can be dried and used in soups or ground into flour used to make small, sweet cakes.

Prickly Pear Cactus FruitPrickly pear fruit can be specially prepared and eaten fresh or cooked down into syrup to make preserves or "cactus candy."

The highly nutritious cactus pads, similar to the leaves on other green plants, can also be specially prepared and served as a type of vegetable.

(Caution: Special Preparation Required by a Knowledgable Expert!)

Cacti, including the Prickly Pear, require protective gloves when gathering or preparing. The first step in preparation is removal of the spines by scraping the side of the cactus pad with a dull knife. Next, the pads are peeled and cut according to how they will be served.  Chefs who specialize in preparation of  gourmet cactus dishes use a variety of techniques; some cut the pads into strips, bread them, and deep- fry them to make scrumptious cactus "fries." Another use calls for cubing the pads for an addition to an omelet or salad. They can also be eaten raw, boiled, baked, pickled or served as part of a delicious vegetable casserole. There are virtually limitless ways to prepare this nutritional vegetable.
 



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