A spinal injury

Since I’m in the business of reinventing state mottos (I did Louisiana a couple weeks back), I’ve got a few suggestions for New Mexico, where I now find myself. My frontrunner is: “New Mexico: Where the chairs are uncomfortable and the foliage is dangerous.”  (The real one is “Crescit eundo” — “It grows as it goes” — perhaps the most enigmatic state motto ever.)

This is another press trip, and yesterday morning I had an hour or so with nothing on the schedule. If there’s one thing you learn on these junkets, it’s that you should take every possible opportunity to get some exercise, because you’re going to spend the rest of the day sitting around, eating. So I went for a walk.

Growing in front of an office building around the corner from my hotel was a giant prickly pear cactus studded with fruit, which I think of as prickly pears but which are actually known as cactus figs. I had to have one.

The spines on the prickly pear are easy to avoid. They’re large, obvious and evenly spaced, and I reached carefully down between them and plucked a cactus fig. That’s when I discovered that the prickly pear has a second line of defense. The fruits themselves have clumps of diabolical little hairy spines, which I subsequently found out have a special name – glochids.

Glochids are to spines what guerilla tactics are to conventional warfare. They’re stealthy and unexpected, and they get you just when you think you’re in the clear. They detach from their clump readily, and implant themselves in your skin. They’re small enough to be almost invisible, but they certainly know how to make their presence known. I spent half the morning trying to pick at least twenty of them out of my hands.

Once you get past the glochids, it’s all good. The prickly pear (I’m sticking with the name, because other people seem to) has that tropical flavor, like a passionfruit or a starfruit, but is much sweeter. It also has a lovely deep-purple color.

When I asked people what to do with it, just about everyone said “margaritas!” But that seems to be the answer to a lot of questions around here. I think it has something to do with the uncomfortable chairs.

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  1. Yeah, I saw a basket of them in a fruit shop once & picked one up to look at it. If I’d been careful, I would have seen the warning sign & the tongs they’d provided for people to use. Ouch!

    I’ve heard you can make a jam out them.

  2. Toria — I’m glad I’m not the only one. Thanks for feeling my pain.

    Paula — Now that my eyes have been opened to the true merits of tequila, I must say I’m in your camp.

  3. Tamar, if that ever happens again, use a piece of tape to remove the tiny spines. Press the tape onto the skin and pull of quickly…same idea as waxing and it really gets them. I am highly allergic to cacti and learned this trick the hard way. (Also, you should always travel with tape in your suitcase. It’s lifesaver on the road…lint remover, hem putter-upper…believe me, you’ll use use it).

  4. if you’ve not tried the prickly pear margarita, you know not of what you speak. the magenta fabulousness, once consumed, is so good you’ll never wonder what else to do with prickly pear candy (its what we called it anyways).

  5. Amanda — You speak with the voice of authority. And, after having processed the prickly pears I brought home from New Mexico, and ended up with three cups of the magenta fabulousness, I’m a believer in the the prickly pear margarita. I haven’t made it yet, mind you, but I see the possibilities.

  6. Rick Bibeault says:

    Tamar…there are prickly pears that grow wild in Wellfleet and Truro…though I am not sure when they fruit.

  7. I purchased some of these at a local Hispanic store, but maybe mine were underripe b/c they didn’t have much of a taste. This was before I could really cook anything beyond Mac n Cheese, so I wasn’t thinking in terms of reduction and sauces to concentrate any flavors, but on principle alone, I heartily agree with any plan that takes fruit and combines it with alcohol.

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