about Agios Georgios north, Corfu

Agios Georgios

Prickly Pear Cactus

Around the resort and nearby roads can be seen examples of large Opuntia cactus plants which in autumn produce fruits the sizeand shape of lemons. Commonly known as "prickly pear" cactus this is an introduced plant from the North American continent.

It is said to have been brought to Spain by Christopher Columbus from where it spread around other parts of the Mediterranean.
Well-known from westerns filmed in the American deserts it is easily recognised by its large flat pads which act as water storage as well as for photosynthasis.

In the the greener parts of the Agios Georgios countryside the plants can grow well into sturdy "bushes" and of course are well adapted to easily survive the hot dry Corfu summers.


Cactus "pears" the size of lemons

The Pears

The fruit of opuntias is edible, and often sold in the markets or streets in Corfu town. However see WARNING below. It is often used to make candies and jelly. Other names are Indian Fig, barbary pear, cactus pear, Indian pear, tuna fig.

It is full of small seeds which can be eaten without any problem. The prickly pear is low in calories, is fairly high in proteins and is high in vitamin C. It can be served with other fruit (banana, cantaloupe, kiwi) or eaten plain with a little lemon juice squeezed on it (and served very cold). In some very high classed Parisian restaurants the fruit of the prickly pear is blended with sugar and lemon, then strained to filter out the pits and frozen. It is served as a dessert with a little rum or vodka to customers with refined palates who seek out rare tastes.

Warning

DO NOT just grab hold of one of these inviting fruits !
They are covered in tiny spine-like hairs which are barbed and attach themselves to bare skin and are very difficult to remove because they cannot easily be seen. They cause intense irritation (personally vouched for).
They are usually picked when wearing gloves and handled very carefully.

Some people suggest that scrubbing the prickly pear with a hard brush and then rinsing it with warm water is a good way to avoid getting the sharp hairs in your fingers and hands. A good way to enjoy the prickly pear though, is to hold the fruit down with a fork. Using a sharp knife, cut off both ends of the fruit and make incisions lengthwise down the fruit thus making it easy to peel the fruit with your fingers.

If buying the fruit in the Corfu shops or markets CHECK that the hairs have already been removed. One foreign visitor who was attracted by the strange juicy-looking fruits on display by a street trader asked if they were edible. When told "yes" he promptly picked one up and bit it causing him terrible irritation inside his mouth !!