Monday, July 28, 2008

Monsoons and Harvests in the Southwest

This is always a fun time of year to garden. If I get out there early enough, I only feel a little bit like dying from the heat. The moisture and daily afternoon downpours make for a very happy garden. And - best of all, it helps keep the critters somewhat at bay.

I have my own theories about why the critters are not as interested in the luscious new grow on the plants - the water has created a bounty of their REAL favorites in the desert. Plenty of fat cactus and desert brush abound. The prickly pear and saguaros are beginning to drop their fruit and that is waaaay too yummy to pass up. I need to get out there with my tongs and pick away, in fact.

Prickly pear fruit has been touted as some wonderful medicinal qualities, such as reducing bad cholesterol and helping diabetics. My favorite remedy is the use of prickly pear fruit for hangovers. According to Wikipedia, might have a reducing effect on alcohol hangover by inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators. Studies have yielded differing results, with some studies witnessing significant reductions in nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite as well as less risk of a severe hangover[13], while others witnessing no compelling evidence for effects on alcohol hangover[14].

The following tips from Wikihow are really helpful in harvesting and working with prickly pear fruit:

  1. Buy or harvest some prickly pears.

    • The pears with the reddish-orange or purple skin and deep purple interiors are considered to be the sweetest, but the white-skinned varieties are more popular in Mexico.
    • Store-bought prickly pears are usually spine-free and sometimes can be handled with your bare hands. Unprocessed pears still have glochids. Just to be sure, always use tongs or at least a plastic bag as a glove. it will drive you crazy if you get some on your skin.
    • If you're foraging for prickly pears, remember that while all pears are edible, only a few will actually be ripe and taste good.
  2. Remove the spines.
    • Place the pear in a container of cold water. Doing this washes some spines away, but not all of them.
  3. Skin the pears.
    • Pick up the end of the pear with a few paper towels folded together, cradling the pear within the paper towels and not allowing the surface of the pear to touch your skin.
    • Slice off the thicker skin at both ends of the prickly pear (the bottom and the top). It takes a little practice to know how much to slice off. Generally, you want to take off the skin without getting at the seed-filled center.
    • Cut lengthwise along the pear's top-bottom centerline just through the skin. Using that slit, and being careful about the spines, use the knife to lever the skin and peel it off of the rest of the pear.
  4. Cut the pear into slices, or stick onto a fork or skewer and serve.
    • The flesh of the prickly pear can be used to make jam, jelly, sorbet, and "cactus candy."
    • The seeds can be consumed with the fruit (but be careful not to bite into them, as they're quite hard) or spit out.
    • Some people eat the seeds in soup or dry them to be ground into flour.

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