|Bloom on June 11th with large thorns glistening in the sun. The glochids are not visible.|
|This one turned out to be a yellow-flowered variety (July)|
|Prickly pears in my neighborhood (December)|
I noticed a beautiful specimen full of peach-colored pears in my neighborhood last December. Today I drove by and to my surprise, it was full of bright yellow flowers. I ran home to get my camera to record the plant in all its colorful glory. On Napa Valley's Silverado Trail, by Pina winery, there is another lovely example of a prickly pear cactus. Last winter, the fruit was peachy-orange, but I haven't been back to observe the color of the flowers.. Maybe I'll call the winery, or drive up there.
|Pina winery has a huge prickly pear on Napa's Silverado trail|
|Orange fruit growing last winter|
|Street scene in Palermo (featuring vegetables)|
When we arrived in Palermo and began exploring the city, we saw patrons intently eating vividly-colored sweetmeats with knife, fork and spoon in trattorias and outdoor cafes everywhere
|Typical outdoor cafe in Sicily|
We had no idea what they were eating, but we were curious and vowed to find out.
|Here's Dean waiting for his pizza and Birra Moretti, watching the guy at the nearby table eating the mystery dish|
|Artistically peeled, ready to eat fico (singular of fichi)|
|These colors are not enhanced—this is typical of what we saw in Palermo|
|We passed stalls of grilled peppers stuffed with olives, roast chickens and more Sicilian veggies|
Then we saw some young men selling the mysterious colorful items on the street. I decided to ask them what they were. Fichi D'India they told us. Figs of India, and they handed out pieces for us to sample. They peeled the figs and assured us that they were delicious. The flavor was subtle, astringent and there were large, seemingly inedible seeds throughout the fruit, which made them difficult to eat and unpleasant to my taste. Perhaps they just don't appeal to Americans. However, judging from the excitement in Palermo, Sicilians couldn't get enough of them.
From Palermo we took a train (not the way to travel in Sicily we learned, since a bus or car could get you there in a quarter of the time) to nearby Taormina. Though they're slow and make stops every ten minutes, the Sicilian trains are a lovely way to meet people. On the three-hour ride, we befriended Kiki, a friendly Norwegian, who was deathly afraid of the lightening which was flashing ominously as we approached our destination. Luckily, after a torrential downpour at the station, the sun reappeared so we could enjoy our pool and the spectacular view from our hotel room high above the Ionian Sea.
|Early morning view from our room at the Hotel Villa Belvedere in Taormina|
In Taormina we visited the Greek amphitheatre, the first of many spectacular Sicilian ruins we saw, but Fichi d'India were in short supply, probably because of the abundance of foreign tourists who don't appreciate them.
|The amphitheatre in Taormina|
Leaving Taormina, we rented a car so we could see the sights on the little-traveled highways and byways. The good news was that Europcar had upgraded us to a comfy larger vehicle; the bad news was that we had difficulty navigating the narrow streets in tiny villages and on mountainous roads. We actually got stuck on a hairpin turn in Piazza Armerina, and the friendly shopkeepers had to help us struggle out of the tight corner. The crowd that had gathered to watch applauded when we finally succeeded. To celebrate we stopped for gelato. We tried to have at least two every day!
|Though it's not pictured here, my favorite was always the Sicilian Pistachio gelato|
We then headed South to less-touristy destinations like Ragusa, Noto, Modica and Trapani (a stronghold of the Mafia; full of shiny black cars with darkened windows.) And, of course, more photographic ruins along the way.
|My favorite temple—Segesta|
|I'm resting against a giant column between showers|
|Dean testing ancient walls at the Greek temple of Selanunte|
Now that we had identified the mystery fruit we spotted them all over Sicily. In Cefalu, one of our last stops on the way back to Palermo, I discovered another beautiful fruit stand in the middle of the street. Featured in the front were crates of Fichi, ready to be peeled and enjoyed by some lucky Sicilians. I much preferred the muscat grapes, classic figs and melons, ripe and succulent in this Mediterranean mid- September.
|Cefalu fruit stand with crates of fichi d'India in the foreground|
We also saw a wedding party at the cathedral on the main Piazza
|Piazza Duomo in Cefalu, filled with cafes|
We returned to Palermo before flying home to California, where fichi d'India are called prickly pears.
Here's a YouTube demonstration on how to prepare one. Notice how many goodies there are for Green Bin: