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Here's how to peel a prickly pear ...without getting spines, that is.

Prickly pears are Nature's way of teasing gluttons. The pulp is colorful, sugary, delicious; the seeds are small, the peel comes off easily, unlike apples or pears.The spines are next to invisible, insidious, ubiquitous and annoying as hell!

At first your hand seems fine, until you flex your finger in a certain way, or touch something, or move your thumb like that. Then the spines says "hello, the pulp has been digested three hours ago but we've decided to keep you company for the rest of the day".

After a nasty experience that left me somewhat bruised, I decided to leave those tasty fruits alone - until I met mr. Domenico, a calabrese who taught me The Way.

  • Use a fork to spear a fruit in the middle, with the prongs aligned with the axis; don't push too deeply or the pulp will split - just hold it firmly against the plate.
  • Cut off both ends with a sharp knife with a rounded point.
  • Make an incision along the axis, from end to end, about 1 cm to the right of the prongs of the fork; don't cut too deeply.
  • Insert the knife point in the incision and gently lift the peel to the right, rolling the pear with the fork as you proceed. If the pear is too ripe it will split at this point; use a spoon to scoop out the pulp, it's still quite good.
  • If you have godlike powers, after lifting the first flap you can use the point of the knife to pin it to the plate, and unroll the rest of the peel with a single fluid semicircular motion of the fork hand. (If you are a mere mortal, read on).
  • When you have lifted half of the peel, take the fork out and use it on the now-peeled part.
  • Use the knife to lift the other half of the peel. Slice the peeled pear into disks. Enjoy.

Green pears are the easiest to peel, but they aren't very tasty; yellow, orange and green-purple are more difficult, but they have a fully ripened flavour; deep red ones must be cut in half and eaten with a spoon, always holding down the fruit with a fork.

For some unexplained reason you'll still get a couple of spines at least, even if you always kept the fruit at fork length, but this is a small price to pay.

A word to the wise: after a romantic (possibly sicilian) dinner, it's a nice finishing touch to peel and cut those fruits for your girl. In these cases, getting a spine in your finger is doubly annoying for obvious reasons.

(The spines show up quite clearly if you put your hand under a lamp in front of a black background; once you've located the suckers, it's tweezers time).