NOPAL DE CASTILLA
Prickly pear cactus has been distributed to many parts of the world but it originated in the Americas, specifically in what are now the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. There are several dozen species of prickly pear belonging to the genus Opuntia. Throughout the region where these cacti are found you’ll hear prickly pear referred to as nopal (no-pahl). When the pads are beginning to grow and thus fleshy and light green they’re called nopalitos, the suffix, itos, being the diminutive of the word, nopal.
In 1995 the Texas legislature named the nopal the Texas State Plant, an appropriate decision considering that you’d best not mess with nopal or with Texas.
Ask anyone around these parts which is the best tasting species of nopal and they’ll reply nopal de castilla (Opuntia ficus-indica). Go to local grocery stores and you’ll see bins laden with nopal de castilla pads. Families grow nopal de castilla in their yards, and nopal farms are found throughout the area, all of them growing this favorite prickly pear. By the way, in case you’re wondering, nopal de castilla originated in Mexico. The good news is that nopal de castilla is easy to grow if you live in dry, arid, desert regions.
Since we’re a bunch of knife nuts around here I just had to show you a photo of my new favorite nopalito spine remover. It doubles as my Port Mansfield, Texas fishing trip pal.