Prickly pear cactuses have been a staple food of Native Americans for many centuries. Their large, colorful blossoms appear in yellow, pink, red or purple and grow from the tip of cactus nodules, which later ripen into delicious red fruit. The fruit of prickly pear cactuses is a common delicacy in Mexico and is sold in markets as “tuna.” The flat-jointed paddles of the prickly pear are not leaves, but an adaptation of a stem from which the fruit grows. The cactus paddles, “Nopales,” are also a commonly used ingredient in Mexican recipes, including salads and scrambled eggs.

Prickly Pear Margarita Recipe (serves 4)

6 oz. Tequila
4 oz. Triple Sec
4 oz. Lime Juice
2 oz. Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup (Substitute 2 oz Prickly Pear Nectar for a skinny margarita)
1 oz. Orange Juice
Kosher Salt (optional)

To serve on the rocks: Mix ingredients and pour over ice in 4 glasses. To serve blended: Pour 4 cups ice in a blender container, add ingredients and blend. Pour into margarita glass with or without a salt rim and garnish with cactus candy or lime slice.

Prickly Pear Lemonade Recipe (Makes 1/2 Gallon)

16 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
3/4 Cup Pure Cane Sugar
1/4 Cup Prickly Pear Cactus Syrup
48 oz. Water

Directions: Pour over ice or blend in a blender. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Prickly Pear Martini Recipe

2 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
1 Tbsp. Prickly Pear Syrup
1/2 oz Fresh Lime

Directions: Mix ingredients and pour over ice. Garnish with a slice of lemon or lime.  You can also sugar the rim of the glass.

Prickly Pear Wine Cooler Recipe (Makes 1 – 8oz glass)

1 Scoop of Ice
1 Tablespoon of Prickly Pear Syrup
1/2 glass Chablis Wine
1/2 Glass 7-up

Directions: Fill glass with the ingredients and stir well.

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. Other ways to remove the spines include: Blending, juicing or boiling the fruit. 

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.

Prickly Pear Juice
Select ripe prickly pears, including a few on the green side to add pectin if making jelly. Wash and rinse. Place in a pot with 1 cup of water and cook over low heat until tender (about 20 minutes). Mash with a potato masher and strain to remove seeds and fibers.

Prickly Pear Puree
Wash and peel ripe prickly pears. Cut in half with a knife and scoop out the seeds. Force the raw pulp through a medium to fine strainer. Freeze either fruit pulp or the puree. Simply pack into freezer containers and seal. Thaw before using.

Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe
4 cups prickly pear juice
5 cups sugar
2 packages of powdered pectin

Follow the pectin manufacturer’s directions for adding ingredients and fast boil, stirring constantly. Bring to a hard boil that cannot be stirred down, boil for 3 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal.

Prickly Pear Marmalade Recipe
4 cups chopped prickly pears
1 cup sliced lemon
2 oranges
1 or more cups of sugar (see below)

Chop orange peel and pulp. Add 4 cups water to lemon and orange. Let stand 12 to 18 hours in a cool place. Boil until peel is tender. Cool. Measure lemon, orange and water in which cooked. Add chopped prickly pears and 1 cup of sugar for each cup of combined pear, lemon, orange and water. Boil to the jellying point. Pour, boiling hot, into hot jars. Seal at once.

Prickly Pear Salad Dressing Recipe
1/2 cup prickly pear puree
1/3 cup salad oil (not olive oil)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
3 to 4 Tbs. tarragon white wine vinegar

Shake all ingredients together in a covered jar. Makes about 1 cup. This pretty pink dressing is thin like an oil and vinegar dressing, but lower in calories. Good on fruit salads and tossed green salads.

There has been medical interest in the prickly pear plant. Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the prickly pear pulp lowers levels of “bad” cholesterol while leaving “good” cholesterol levels unchanged. Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lowers diabetics’ need for insulin. There are ongoing studies and at this point there are no proven results on humans. You can make your own study and see if works for you, which is the only test that really counts. More…

Note: In California, it is illegal to collect or pick fruit within 100 yards of a road or highway. It is also illegal to collect fruit that is growing on private property or property designated as a protected area, including a state or national park.