Papoutsosyka – Prickly Pears
Prickly pears are one of our favorite summer fruits. They are called papoutsosyka, papoutsi (shoe) and syka (figs), in our dialect because the plant’s leaves look like shoe soles.
The Prickly pear cactus is found all over Cyprus, from flat plains to semi-mountains areas, at the edges of fields, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs and gardens. It needs very little water and can survive very hot weather.
Prickly pears are bright red or orange outside when ripe, while their taste brings to mind a combination of watermelon and classic bubble gum. They are very sweet, usually yellow inside, and can be eaten raw. Depending on the level of ripeness, they can range from slightly sweet to syrupy sweet. They are commonly used in juices, cocktails, syrups, jams, and candies.
Cutting the fruit from the cactus and peeling it can be hard work due to its sharp thorns, nevertheless the taste is definitely worth the trouble. Fruit picking and peeling should be done with leather or thick rubber gloves and tongs. Once picked from the bush, prickly pears stop ripening, so they should be cut only when ripe to achieve highest sweetness levels.
Besides their tangy touch to various recipes, the prickly pear fruit boasts tons of health benefits. It boosts the immune system, stimulates bone growth, helps digestion, reduces inflammation, decreases cholesterol levels and the risk of diabetes and many more.
If you have never tasted a prickly pear before, give it a try here while on our island. You can find them in the markets or even on roadside sold by fruit vendors who peddle their fresh produce.