A Prickly Suprise

by Brian on December 1, 2010

in A Parent in Israel,Travel

Hiking along the Israel Trail from Mitzpe Missua

They looked so ripe and delicious. How were we to know that eating sabra fruit in the wild is an adventure intended only for the foolish – animal, human or otherwise?

We were in the middle of another wonderful family tiyul in Israel. This one started at Mitzpe Missua, a look out point at the top of a high hill slightly southwest of Beit Shemesh on Highway 38. Mitzpe Missua used to have a lovely country restaurant that served awesome fish dishes with a view to kill, all the way to the ocean. The establishment has sadly since closed.

Most of our Friday morning hike was through Park Britannia along a scenic, shaded path that doubles as the Israel Trail, winding its way to the archaeological dig at Tel Azeka. On our return, following a dusty jeep trail, we encountered a veritable forest of sabra – Hebrew for cactus.

Now, when you buy sabra at the supermarket, the fruit has none of the spiky characteristics you’d associate with a typical cactus. The peel feels like a bumpy orange; it’s shaped like a pear and has a sweet, soft interior filled with seeds.

It’s this combination of a hard exterior and a pliable inside that’s given Israelis the nickname of Sabras – gruff when you meet them on the street, but willing to go the extra kilometer when you get to know them personally.

Our oldest son picked up a solitary sabra that had fallen on our side of a barbed wire fest; Jody then held it gently by the ends and pried the sabra open with two fingers, careful not to prick herself. We all took bites and were happy with our impromptu culinary discovery.

Unbeknownst to us, though, both the peel and the edible part of the fruit itself are infested with tiny, nearly microscopic, thorns which immediately lodged themselves in our lips and tongues, causing a not life threatening but nevertheless stinging pain. Imagine your lips have gone to sleep and are in a prolonged state of near wakefulness.

Complaining loudly, as is my wont, 17-year-old Merav took me aside and, like a mother monkey to her babies, began to “groom” me by plucking the thorns out of my lips one at a time. Ten minutes later, satisfied that I was indeed prickle free, we continued down the trail.

(Only later did we learn from Israeli friends that, before eating non supermarket-scrubbed sabras, it’s recommended to roll them around in the dirt to blunt the tang of the tiny thorns.)

A few hours after our return home, Shabbat came in, After candle lighting, I leaned over to kiss Jody (as is also my wont). But not for long – the pain returned, redoubled! Apparently, Merav wasn’t able to get them all.

It wasn’t until the chicken soup that I found relief, proving once again the healing powers of this classic Jewish dish – not only for colds and flu’s, but apparently also the slings and arrows of wild sabra fruit.

Aviv wrote a nice description of this tiyul on his bar mitzvah blog. Check it out here!

This post appeared originally on the Israelity blog.

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