The Fico D'India/ Ficchi D'India (plural) or prickly pears as we know them, are the spikey yet sweet fruit that hangs like jewels on the cactus plants along the Sicilian coastline. Ficchi D'India are an indigenous fruit of Sicily. The cactus plant was originally used as a natural barrier between neighboring farmers and they have now become a symbol of Sicilian decor and culture. One could say that this fruit perfectly symbolizes Sicily, as it is a truly expression of what living in this island means, that is adapting to many different conditions, overcoming thorny pitfalls, and then finally savoring unexpected sweetness.
You can see it everywhere, often portrayed with its bright colors on typical landscapes or colorful carts, on the precious ceramics of Caltagirone, but also on clothing and jewelry :)
There are three different Prickly pears varieties, having 3 distinct colors: The Sulfarina the most widespread and therefore less in demand variety, has a typic orange-yellow flesh and a slightly powdery consistency; Muscaredda, a sweeter and more crunchy variety, having a white pulp, and finally the Sanguigna, which is characterized by its red-purple pulp. Beyond varieties, a distinction of quality should be made between the fruit first flowering, which takes place between May and June, and the so-called "bastardoni" or "big bastards", which are the prickly pears born after the second flowering, in the period running from late September to November. These latter have a firmer pulp containing less seeds and somewhat larger hence their endearing nick name
The fruit is juicy and sweet and contains many seeds which if eaten in excess can cause constipation (just ask my dad LOL). Ficchi D’India are also transformed into preserves, juices, condiments, liquors. Not to mention its large, fleshy and thorny leaf, called " la pala", whose juice and pulp are used in cosmetology and in phytotherapy for their incredible healing and moisturizing qualities. This tiny fruit has a lot of power packed in with a high concentration of vitamin C, magnesium and fiber. Research also shows that prickly pears have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, two aspects that might explain why some Sicilians consider it the perfect hangover cure ;)
The beautiful range of color of the ficchi d'india have inspired my Ficchi D'India armparty which can be found here!