The Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia, produces a delicious fruit and savory pads that are edible and that can be used a variety of recipes. If you want to experience the whole process, this article will explain how to harvest the Prickly Pear Fruit. If you are interested in harvesting the pads and learning how use the pads in recipes, we have a separate page on that topic. Prickly Pear Pads (Nopales) Recipes.
If you are interested in the recipes, but don’t want to harvest and juice your own fruit, you can buy Prickly Pear Syrup right here on DesertUSA.
Prickly Pears can be eaten raw or juiced to make syrup, jam, honey, sauces, salad dressings, tea, margaritas, martinis and other delicious recipes.
Prickly Pear Fruit (Called “tuna” in Spanish)
The prickly pear fruit usually ripens in the late summer through early fall. The fruit can vary in color. The ruby red color of the fruit indicates that it is ripe and ready to harvest. If the cactus pears are yellow or orange, they may not be fully ripe and will have a more tart flavor. The flavor of Prickly Pear fruit has been described as a cross between raspberry and watermelon.
Harvesting the Prickly Pear Fruit
To harvest the fruit, you will need tongs, a knife and gloves. Us the tongs to pull the fruit off of the cactus pad. If it doesn’t easily come off, use the knife to cut the fruit from the pad. Store the prickly pear fruit in a bowl or bucket. Be sure and leave some fruit on the cactus for the wildlife to feed on and for the cactus to reproduce.
Removing spines and glochids from cactus pears
There are several ways to remove the Prickly Pear spines and glochids, the tiny spines that are almost invisible. You can cut them off which a vegetable peeler or knife. Be sure and wear gloves if you use this method. Another option, which I prefer, is to burn them off of the fruit by holding the fruit over an open flame using tongs or a fork. Once the spines and glochids are removed from the cactus pear you can peel or cut them and to eat raw.
I’ve read about other ways to remove the spines that require blending, juicing or boiling the fruit. Place the Prickly Pear fruit with spines intact into a blender or juicer.
If you want to skip the step of harvesting the Prickly Pear Fruit yourself, you can purchase the fruit at farmer’s markets, specialty stores and Mexican markets. The Prickly Pear fruit you purchase, will already have the spines and glochids removed.
The Prickly Pear Juice and Prickly Pear Puree can be used for a variety of food and drink recipes.
How do you make Prickly Pear Juice?
Regardless of which method you use to remove the spines, the next step to make Prickly Pear juice is to cut both of the ends off of the fruit and peel it. Once peeled you will need to put the fruit into a strainer placed over a bowl and press it through with a wide spoon to extract the juice. You can also use a juicer. If you use the boil method, blender or juicer to remove the spines, you will need to use a linen napkin, clean pillow case or t-shirt material and place the material inside a strainer to filter out spines, pulp and seeds. If you use cheesecloth, you may need several layers to ensure the spines are properly removed during the straining process. Dispose of the cloth material and leftover seeds, spines and pulp.
How to make Prickly Pear Puree
After removing the spines and glochids, cut the ends off of the Prickly Pears, cut the fruit in half and remove the seeds. Mash the fruit with a potato masher to create puree.
Once you extract the Prickly Pear fruit juice or puree, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days, or you can freeze it for later use. Ice cube trays make a convenient way to freeze the juice. Once frozen, you can store the Prickly Pear cubes in a plastic freezer bag. The puree can also be frozen.
What can I make with Prickly Pear Juice?
Prickly Pear Syrup and Prickly Pear Jam are two of the most popular recipes that require Prickly Pear Juice. Prickly Pear syrup can be used on pancakes, but it is also the main ingredient in other Prickly Pear recipes. The syrup is used to make Prickly Pear Margaritas, Prickly Pear Lemonade, Prickly Pear Salad Dressing and other drink and sauce recipes.
Prickly Pear Jam is another popular recipe. The sweet jam is unique and makes a great gift for friends and family. If you don’t want to make it from scratch, you can buy the Prickly Pear Jelly in gift sets. Prickly Pear Honey is also available for purchase.
Prickly Pear Jam Recipe