Chosen by French artist Isabelle Zutter as the subject for a painting, when in flower the prickly pear is an exotic cactus. Selected for its aesthetic beauty and displayed at a new exhibition at Galeria Côrte-Real, the prickly pear has several practical uses.
In the eastern Algarve it is often planted in lines to create an effective natural barrier or a hedge. The prickles – they are not spines or thorns – rise from the epidermis and act as lethal weapons to deter would-be intruders and to prevent animals straying from a field.
Isabelle Zutter is one of many artists represented by Côrte-Real to feature the flora and fauna of the Algarve in her paintings. She accurately depicts the fragile flower petals of the prickly pear that are considered to be a culinary delicacy.
The pads – nopales – and the fruit –the pear – are also edible. Both must be carefully peeled or torched to remove the prickles.
In Mexico and South America, the plant has been eaten as part of a staple diet for many centuries and in gourmet kitchens in North America and Europe it is gaining popularity.
Designated parts of the prickly pear are also used as natural remedies for diabetes, bruises and sunburn. More bizarrely the pads are sometimes peeled, heated and then placed on the chest to relieve congestion.
Unaware of its varied practical uses the artist was attracted by its form and greatly contrasting features.
Isabelle Zutter is winner of the prestigious Médaille de Bronze, Salon Artistes Français. Galeria Côrte-Real is her sole representative in Portugal.
The gallery is signposted from Boliqueime, Ferreiras and Paderne. It is open Thursday to Sunday, from 11am to 5pm.
912 737 762 | www.corterealarte.com
By CAROLYN KAIN
Photo: Painting exhibition Isabelle Zutter at Galeria Côrte-Real