Prickly Pear: Taming the Wild & Fruity
By Wendy Tremayne
The prickly pear cactus holds a unique position in nature. It is a fruit, vegetable, and a flower, and all parts of the plant are edible. Even the seed can be ground into flour. Also known as Indian fig, the plant produces food and medicine. Once its thorny exterior is tamed, the prickly generously gives up nutrition, healing, and a hot pink sweet-tart punch. Prickly pear grows wild in deserts throughout the west as well as Mexico, Columbia, Israel, and Italy. It is characterized by thorny pads (nopales) with clumps of large flowers and juicy fruits (tuna) that appear in the fall. The tuna are high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They also contain antioxidant compounds. The plant’s medicinal properties are still being discovered. Some say that prickly is on its way to becoming a curative superstar.
Scientist, doctor, and wild food lover alike must pass through prickly pear’s stingy initiation in order to receive the bounty of its succulent fruit. With a few simple tips, harvesting is easily achieved. This DIY covers picking, processing, and the making of a delicious fruity beverage.
Picking: Head out early in the morning when the acid level of the plant is low. Pick fat and dark-colored tuna with a pair of tongs by holding the tuna in the tong and twisting gently in a circular motion. Never touch the plant with your hands! Ripe tuna will fall off with little effort. Catch tuna in a cardboard box.
5 cups water
Gas, propane range, or open fire
Directions for Processing
Once you’ve collected a box of tuna (1/2 dozen = 2 quarts of punch), it is necessary to remove the thorns before making a punch.
Step 1: Boil 4 cups of water. Burn off thorns by holding the fruit with tongs over a flame. Rotate fruit to expose all sides and then place in water and boil for between 15 seconds and half a minute. While burning removes many of the thorns, any remaining thorns are softened temporarily by the heat and moisture from boiling.
Step 2: Place blanched fruits on a cutting board. Using tongs to hold the fruit and a serrated knife to cut it, make a cut down the long side of the fruit. Cut off both ends and throw away.
Step 3: Use the tongs to grab the skin at the location of the cut and slowly peel off and discard skin. Once the fruits are skinned, you are thorn-free and ready to make punch.
6 prickly pear tuna, skinned
5 cups filtered water
3 pinches salt
Sprig of mint leaves half teaspoon, if dry
2 Tbsp sweetener honey, agave, ju ju, or sugar
Two 8″ blades of fresh lemongrass 2 Tbsp, if dry
Juice of 2 limes
Directions for Punch
Step 1: Combine all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on low for 1 minute, then on high for 1 minute.
Step 2: Filter the punch by pouring it through a fine colander or cheesecloth.
Step 3: Enjoy your finished prickly pear beverage. Yum!
About the Author:
Wendy Tremayne is renovating an RV park into a 100% reuse, off-grid B&B in Truth or Consequences, N.M. Another project, Swap-O-Rama-Rama, is a clothing swap and DIY workshop designed to offer people an alternative to consumerism.