And you thought I’d skip the United States. Admittedly, I did have a brief moment of skepticism and boredom. I’ve already made classic American dishes, including apple pie, hamburgers, and the Thanksgiving feast. Instead of taking a traditional approach, I decided to embrace the diversity of America. Undoubtedly, the food here is just as diverse as the people, geography, beliefs, and cultures that create this big and beautiful melting pot. When you focus on a specific region, or even state to state, the variety is clear. Each has a unique flavors, ingredients, and dishes inherent to that place.
I chose to focus on our current home in the Southwest (Tucson, AZ). It’s harvest time for the prickly pears, and the timing couldn’t be better. In mid-late August, the prickly pear cacti are bursting with edible, delicious fruit. When you shop locally, you can find items like prickly pear popcorn, candy, and chocolate truffles with a gooey prickly pear center. Most often, it’s in liquid forms: a simple syrup used in cocktails, beer (a favorite), traditional syrup (think maple), and jam. This is because the flesh of the fruit is soft, juicy, and filled with seeds.
You’ll need gloves to harvest this fruit. Like most plants and animals of the desert, the prickly pear is defensive. Imagine the smallest splinter you’ve ever gotten. Now, imagine an even smaller one, and you’ll understand the needles that cover this fruit.
For this recipe, I made a homemade prickly pear syrup. The process took time (and was slightly painful), but I loved every minute. I think it’s the bright magenta color that makes it so enjoyable. How often do we work with such naturally vivid colors? Most prickly pear syrups (or any item for that matter) that you buy in the store can be gnawingly sweet, so making it homemade helps you control the amount of sugar. I also added the rosemary and a cinnamon stick for balance & flavor, and it was unbelievably good. My blueberry pancakes this morning tasted divine with the leftover syrup.
Here’s the process: Cut the pears – scoop out the guts – puree the guts – strain the seeds/collect the juice – cook on the stove along with other syrup ingredients. Ta-da!
The prickly pear syrup is then used for the base of the marinade. Along with adding some Southwestern-inspired details to the mix, including chili powder, lime, and fresh cilantro, the marinade hits all the right notes… An unforgettable meal! If I could do anything over again, I’d make a bigger batch of the syrup, then cook it with a pork roast… Because shredded prickly pear pork tacos sound incredible.
What ingredients & recipes define your region? State? Culture? And which regions would you like to explore more?
For the syrup
- Prickly pears
- cinnamon stick
- corn starch
For the marinade
- Prickly pear syrup
- olive oil
- chili powder
- fresh cilantro
- pork chops
S: “My taste buds dance in prickly pear reverie…”
T: “That prickly pear though… Fun, flavorful, new, tasty!”
- The first recorded use of the word, “America,” is credited to Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann on their 1507 map, Universalis Cosmographia
- They named the continent after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci (the Latin version of his first name is Americus, and the feminine of which is America), making the following statement: “I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part, after Americus who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women”
- The first recorded use of the phrase “United States of America” is found in a letter by Stephen Moylan, a patriot of the Revolutionary War, dated January 2nd, 1776