A summer cocktail with pureed cactus pear, fresh orange juice and Metaxa
This drink is inspired by our desire to make something special using our dad’s favourite fruit, the cactus pear. The plants of cactus pears, also known as prickly pears, or fragosyka in Greek, can be found in the rocky terrains of Greece across much of the country, including the Peloponnese where our family is from.
Our dad’s sister, our Thea Athena, had a home in Chrani in Messinia. Chrani has become a tourist hub, but when we were growing up, it was a quiet, quaint little village with few people and a fabulous beach. Our aunt’s home and farm were one of our most favourite and special places. She had animals and fruit trees and an infectious laugh and a hug that you fell into happily and easily. And although the village was small, her home seemed to be the center of so much village action. Right outside her front porch there was a bus station and throughout the day locals, and the occasional traveller, would step off the bus to then continue their route up the mountains to other villages. Our aunt owned a small coffee shop which was an extension of her home and there she sold drinks and ice creams and fresh fruit to the bus passengers, most of whom she knew by name. They would sit for a while at the small table she had set up outside the shop (on the sidewalk really) and talk about village life and village news. It was at once mundane and fascinating.
Across the street from her home, our Thea Athena had a field of fig trees. And to the right of this field was a stone walkway which led you down to the beach. Although not technically so, we always considered this to be our aunt’s private beach. This kilometer or so stretch of paradise was flanked on both sides by rocky cliffs and stone formations jutting into the water which created a visual and physical barrier to the left and the right. The only easy way to access this beach was to use the steps in front of our aunt’s home. Those who did were sure to be scrutinized by coffee-sipping bus travellers.
Our father would always spend part of our time at the beach at the edge of where the sand met the bottom of the rocky hill; this was where the wild growing cactus pears could be found. Wearing thick gloves and carrying shears and a paper bag he would pick fragosyka with a huge smile on his face. As young children we would always ask to help, but he never let us, knowing that it took quite a bit of care and skill to harvest the fruit without being injured by the pointy spines which protruded all over the leaves and cactus pears. What he did let us do however was enjoy the fruits of his labour. Sitting on the sand by the water he would use a sharp knife to peel back the cactus pear skin revealing the bright red flesh on the inside which he then offered to us. We would sit by his side quietly, watching his hands work so confidently, anxious that he not get pricked by the spines, relieved when he had finished the task unharmed.
If you can get to Greece and pick your own fragosyka, awesome! But if you can’t, you’re probably in luck because this lovely fruit is becoming more and more accessible in supermarkets, especially during the summer months. If you can’t find cactus pears in your regular food market, look for places which carry many Mediterranean or Mexican food products; you may find them there. The good news about purchasing your cactus pears is that the prickly spines will have been removed, making peeling and eating much less treacherous.
The alcohol used in this cocktail is Metaxa, not quite a cognac nor a brandy, it really is its own unique amber spirit. If you don’t have Metaxa on hand however (go buy some!), you can substitute your favourite cognac.
Be sure to use a good quality orange juice and if you can, freshly squeezed is even better!
Thirsty for more lovely Greek cocktails? Check these out!
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Cactus pear, orange and Metaxa cocktail