Sa Figu Morisca: The Prickly Pear 0 Comments

Sa Figu Morisca: The Prickly Pear

Have you ever stopped to observe the beauty of the prickly pear? Between April and June the plant blooms in all its splendour. All around the strong green blade there is a corolla of beautiful flowers: yellow, orange, pink, violet and red. Then the flower withers and the fruit grows at the bottom of the flower, first cylindrical then more and more ovoid. The colour of the fruit follows the one was of the flower: from yellow in different shades up to red, as a Christmas tree decoration in the middle of summer. With the scozzolatura method, meaning cutting the first bloom flowers from May to June obtaining in autumn  a second, more abundant ripening. The fruits ripening in August, called Agostani, are smaller while the late ones, ripening in autumn, are bigger and more succulent. The Agostani do not need irrigation, while the autumn production does.

Sardinia has the ideal climate for the Prickly Pear, called Sa Figu Morisca in Sardinian, a native plant of Mexico but widespread and well adapted to Sardinian climate and throughout the Mediterranean basin. It has a strong resistance to drought, thanks to the metabolism that protects it from dispersing liquids. To get an idea, consider that in one hectare of cultivation these plants can store up to 180 tons of water in their blades. The peel is covered with thorns which, however, true Prickly Pear lovers who want to taste the sweet pulp are not worried as they know how to avoid the thorns when picking them up. This is made by using a special cane of about 1.5-2 meters long; the largest part of the base  must be cut open in three parts for about 15-20cm with a knife or pattada (typical Sardinian knife). Inserting the cork or a same size stone inside the 3 slits to keep them open, tying the base with an iron wire or a string, so that the three segments remain open as a picking fork. As soon as the fruits are harvested, the Prickly Pears are dipped in the water to rinse the spines that settle on the bottom of the basin, then are set to drying. Keeping the fruit stuck with a fork, cut the two ends and make a vertical cut on the peel, then open it  with a knife and fork. And here is the succulent and fragrant fruit ready to be savoured. 

Many are the plant’s properties: helpful in diabetes treatment, in controlling blood cholesterol rate, treating overweight, gastrointestinal disorders and skin diseases. The juice extracted from the fruits is diuretic and laxative. The leaves are a source of fibre, vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3 and C), and minerals. In Sardinia, the prickly pear is widely used: the fruit is eaten fresh or turned into jams. From the juice an excellent liqueur and a sapa (juice and pulp concentrate) can be made, used in place of grape-must sapa, which has been awarded with the Traditional Product credit. 

For FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Prickly Pears are the food of the future that will save us from hunger, from climatic variations, from desertification that goes on in-containment and from the population boom , because they resist drought, absorb carbon dioxide. By cultivating these "humble" plants, millions of people could be fed in the poorest and most arid areas of the planet and excellent feed can be obtained for farm animals. FAO has developed a study called "Crop Ecology, Cultivation and Uses of Cactus Pear" where it has indicated all the benefits of Prickly Pears. From one hectare of cultivation, 20 tons of fruit can be obtained, and where irrigation systems are used, it can even reach 50 tons. But young leaves and sprouts can be used for omelettes, soups, salads and more. In Sardinia for the moment there is no precise estimate of the area cultivated with prickly pears, but it has taken hold in several locations on the island (Villacidro, Oschiri, Dolianova, Uta, Sardara and Serrenti), examples to follow for the logics of cultivation. 

Starting to use Prickly Pears hedges could be an excellent idea to discourage marauders, and even to attract the African nightingale!

“…they were as if carved from sky-blue stone, all these prickly pears, and when we passed a living soul it was a boy who was going or coming, along the tracks, to pick the fruit crowned with thorns that grew, like coral, on the stone of the prickly pear branches.” (Elio Vittorini)


Written by Daniela Toti


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