This is probably a window into my inner word-nerd, but I have always been fascinated by terms that are unique to a particular language or culture.
Do you ever buy books that you never get around to reading? The Japanese have a word for that.
The Germans have one to describe feeling homesick for a place you’ve never visited
What about all of those times that the perfect, witty comeback come to mind — just a moment too late to be useful? The French apparently call that “l’esprit de l’escalier” or staircase wit.
And the British, it turns out, have a term to describe taking fruit from someone else’s property. It’s called scrumping.*
When we lived in San Antonio, a vendor at the local farmers market sold cactus fruit around this time each year. Prickly Pear cactus grow in Eastern North Carolina too but, as far as I know, no one around here peddles the fruit.
So that’s how I found myself engaged in a little pre-dawn scrumping, with the baby in his stroller serving as my unwitting lookout.
I’m having trouble finding the right words to describe the flavor of cactus fruit, or tuna, as it is also called. I’ve seen it described as tasting like everything from kiwi, to banana, to bubblegum and I’m not sure that any of those are right. To me, it’s a bit more like a pear, but not as sweet and far more tropical tasting.
If you’ve ever had pitaya, or dragon fruit, I think prickly pear cactus fruit have a very similar flavor. Actually, a little Googling just taught me that pitaya are a type of cactus fruit, so I guess that makes sense.
Like pitaya, the flavor of prickly pear flesh is fairly mild but the color is striking, a vivid, almost unnatural hue.
Getting at that flesh isn’t particularly easy. The cactus fruit are thorny and full of hard little seeds. Many recipes call for pureeing the fruit, straining out the seeds, and using the pulp that remains. That’s too much effort for me, which is one of the reasons I like making in this jewel-toned shrub instead. It simply calls for peeling and roughly chopping the fruit.
A shrub is a drink made with vinegar. I know that sounds kind of gross but, stick with me, shrubs are actually very refreshing and a nice way to enjoy a fruity drink that’s not too sweet.
This one is a brilliant shade of pink and would make a fun non-alcoholic option for a party or an interesting base for a cocktail.
Speaking of pink, every time throughout the month of October that someone clicks on one of the pink recipes at Leite’s Culinaria, the folks there will make a donation to a charity that helps offset costs associated with breast cancer (childcare, transportation, etc.). I’m just passing this along because I think it is a great idea. And also because sharing their good works assuages a tiny bit of the guilt I feel about taking my baby out to pilfer the neighbor’s fruit.
I hope you enjoy the shrub and let me know if you try it with another fruit — I’m curious to hear about the results.
*Yes, I am aware that scrumping also has an alternate meaning on this side of the pond. This is not that kind of blog.
Adapted from Louisa Shafia via Food52.
Use caution when handling prickly pear fruit, especially if you pick them yourself. The fruit have tiny, hairy spines. I recommend using heavy duty gardening gloves to avoid getting pricked. Rinsing the fruit well in cool water should wash off most of the spines.
When ripe, the fruit are easy to peel. If yours need a little help, score the bottoms and give them a quick dip (just a few seconds) in boiling water. The skin should loosen up, making it easier to remove.
- 3 cups peeled and roughly chopped prickly pear
- 1/2 cup packed mint leaves
- 1 1/2 cups water
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- sparkling water, to serve
Combine the prickly pear and mint in a large bowl. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the honey, stir to combine, then remove from the heat and pour over the fruit and mint mixture. Cover and let cool.
When the mixture has cooled to room temperature, stir in the cider vinegar. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Strain into a container with a tight-fitting lid. Once strained, the concentrate will keep in the refrigerator for about one week.
To serve, combine the concentrate with sparkling water. I like about 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water, but play around to see what ratio you like best.