The last days of the fico d’india are here, as the winter months are approaching. Although it doesn’t feel like winter is just around the corner here in Sicily. Our breakfast companion for many months will be missed, but we will look forward to the new year and all the gifts this land will bless us with. We have been avid fico d’india eaters, and who wouldn’t be after knowing all the health benefits these brightly colored gems hold.
This juicy plant easily and abundantly took root in Sicily so that it became an integral part of the landscape both as a spontaneous element in rocky and bare areas, and planted out by men in order to enclose farms and pastures or as a windbreaker. The prickly pears structure is a thick and insurmountable barrier, for its stems are formed by cladodes, or pads, reproducing one on the other for more than two meters. Their leathery texture and waxy surface is armed with spines matching wonderfully with the bright landscape of southern Italy, with the emerald green of its trunk, the spiny splendor of its flowers, and the liveliness of its fruits: red, magenta, orange, yellow, and pale green crowning the plant like polychromatic crests. Incas and Aztecs knew the nutritive and therapeutic properties of prickly pears and thought of it as a holy plant with strong symbolic values. They extracted a rich natural dark red dye, carmine. Just to extract carmine, in 1500 the prickly pears were grown in Europe. Soon their other properties were appreciated: their high nutritive value due to the copious presence of minerals such as calcium and phosphorus and the abundant amount of vitamin C. In fact large quantities of prickly pears were stocked on ships in order to prevent scurvy during long crossings.
Excerpt taken from - Gusto di Puglia