Our corner of the Texas Hill Country used to be a huge ranch, mostly used for grazing (cows, goats), part of it for raising cotton back in the 20s, before cotton ruined the soil and the boll weevil ruined the cotton. It wasn't long after that before an opportunistic plant began to colonize the landscape. Prickly pear. Prickly pear is a useful plant, and I admire its ambition and tenacity, but it can be a hazard. So, since we wanted to improve our pasture enough to host a couple of cows, Bill put a lot of labor (mostly with a grubbing hoe) into eradicating the prickly pear. But we saved a few plants, and one of them is blooming this week, to the delight of the local bees.
Prickly pear is a nutritious vegetable, tasty, too, a little like green beans. I've cooked and eaten the pads (nopalitos) I've gathered from our plants, but I've also bought them from the grocery. They're a mainstay in Mexican cookery and frequently used in Tex-Mex food, so we can buy them around here, fresh and fairly local (from the Rio Grande Valley, where they're a commercial crop). GourmetSleuth has some good information about gathering/cooking them. Be careful--they are really, truly spiky. They're also medicinal. The Indians used the muscilage (the pads have a sap that's similar to aloe) to treat burns, sunburns, boils, etc--and there's evidence that the plant may be useful in the treatment of diabetes. Lots more info, photos at TexasBeyondHistory.
This week, writing and much else. Making good progress on the next Cottage Tale. Settled on the title, The Tale of Oat Cake Crag, for reasons I'll explain in another post next week. Also worked with Peggy to publish the June Story Circle eletter. It's here, if you're not a subscriber. (Why not? It's free.) Also working with Masha Holl (whom I met last week with the San Antonio Romance Writers group) on a trailer for Together, Alone, which comes out in September. I've never done a trailer before, but Masha is a pro, and she's teaching me all kinds of new things. Look for that in early August.
Oh, and also garden stuff. The green beans are coming on this week, enough to eat and some for the freezer. The zukes are here too, and I've harvested the sweet onions. Planted more beans, watermelons, and cantelope (for fall).
Reading note. While it is widely known that the pears were the largest part of the [indian] diet for several weeks in mid-summer, the plant was used in many other ways. The pads, especially the younger ones, can be eaten year round – direct evidence from Hinds Cave coprolites (dried human feces) suggests that the pads themselves were eaten often. When moist grass or herbs were not available, the pads were used as green packing material providing steamy moisture and chemical compounds that helped bake lechuguilla and sotol. The pads could also be used as containers and even canteens... During the tuna [tunas are the red, pear-shaped fruit of the prickly pear] harvest, prickly pear was THE most important food in the region, and ranks with pecans and buffalo as a critical seasonal resource.--TexasBeyondHistory