The Time Is Ripe For Prickly Pears



Drive around the side streets of Payson and the evidence is clear -- there are plenty of flat-padded, grey-green cactus topped in scarlet. It is a bumper year for prickly pears.

If you are feeling adventurous, tackle a few of the cactus (with caution) and harvest the fruit.

Here are a few tidbits and tips from the Internet:

  • Usage: Eaten fresh, in marmalades, jelly, ice cream and dessert sauces. (From
  • Selection: Also called cactus pear and tuna fruit, good-quality prickly pear is egg-shaped and has yellow to magenta coloring depending on the variety. Ripen prickly pears at room temperature. The small seeds are edible, but the rind is not. Be careful of spines that were not removed. (from
  • Avoid: Avoid product that is overly soft or that has dark soft spots. (From

The best prickly pears can be picked after they turn a red color and they are at their sweetest after a light frost hits them. (From

  • Handling: The tiny spines from prickly pear fruit are easily removed by securing the fruit in one hand (wear tough garden gloves) and rubbing the fruit briskly with the other hand using a piece of newspaper crunched into a ball. (From

Wearing long sleeves, as well as tough gloves, pick cactus fruit when fully ripe, you can use bacon or long barbecue tongs for this. Burn off the spines over a flame. Use tongs for this too. Half a large grocery bag is enough to start with. (From

Prickly pear fruit, also known as tunas, should be picked using tong or a piece of heavy paper. To prepare tunas, rub with a heavy cloth or peel with a paring knife. To make juice, unpeeled whole fruit can be cooked with just enough water to cover in a sauce pan. Mash with potato masher and let cook 30 minutes. Strain through several layers of cheese cloth or cotton muslin dish towel. (Nancy Hutto, from the Eating Wild cookbook prepared by the Otero County Chapter of the Native Plant society of New Mexico 1999.)

Prickly pear pads are also edible.

Nopales or pads should be harvested when the pads are young and tender. To prepare, scrape with large kitchen knife or peel off spines with vegetable peeler. Trim any dry of fibrous areas. Rinse thoroughly removing any tiny spines or sticky fluid seeping from the pads. Slice into thin strips or chop into small pieces. Steam, saute, or boil. Nopales may be eaten raw, but it is not the preferred way. The prepared pieces may be added to any dish for a southwestern flavor. Nopales can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. Freezing is not recommended. (Nancy Hutto, from the Eating Wild cookbook prepared by the Otero County Chapter of the Native Plant society of New Mexico 1999.)

A visit to the Internet in search of recipes using prickly pear fruit will harvest a large number of "Prickly Pear Jelly" recipes, all quite similar, but with interesting variations. Here are some found by The Rim Review:

Prickly Pear Jelly

Ingredients: Prickly pears

Sur Jel Pectin

Directions: Wash and peel the fruit, place the fruit in a clean nylon "knee high" and squeeze the juice from the fruit -- the seed will remain in the stocking.

Wear disposable rubber gloves.

Open the box of pectin powder and follow the instructions that are inside for apple or grape jelly. The recipe will give the proper amount of sugar and other ingredients needed.

Recipe from Lanier Publishing

Prickly Pear Butter

1 pound unsalted butter

2 each prickly pear cactus fruit or 1/2 cup of another fruit or berry of your choice, strawberries, or raspberries, etc.

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/2 cup honey

Salt, to taste

Let butter soften slightly in a mixing bowl or food processor. Peel and puree the cactus fruit; strain the juice through a fine strainer. Add the juice, cilantro, honey and salt to the mixing bowl or food processor; blend until smooth and all is incorporated.

Put into the refrigerator until it begins to stiffen. Lay out a small sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap and spread out some of the butter in a small strip. Roll up the paper or plastic like a cigar and twist the ends until it becomes a tight package. Freeze until hard and return to refrigerator to soften slightly for easy slicing.

From cooks/.com and The Phoenician

Prickly Pear Salad Dressing

1/2 cup prickly pear puree (recipe below)

1/3 cup salad oil (not olive oil)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons tarragon white wine vinegar

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

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.

From Prickly Pear Sweets and Treats (from and Larry Ulrich

Desert Dream Delight


1 cup flour

1 stick butter

1 cup chopped pecans

Mix together and press in 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees until brown. Let cool and add second layer.

Mix for second layer:

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup whipped dessert topping (large carton)

Spread evenly over cooled crust.


1-1/2 cups prickly pear juice

1-1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix 1/2 cup corn starch and 1/2 cup water to make a smooth paste, add to boiling mixture gradually, stirring constantly. Cook until thick and remove from the heat. Combine 4 beaten eggs and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Stir into mixture. Return to heat and cook stirring constantly until it bubbles. Stir in 4 tablespoons butter. Remove from heat, cover, and cool until lukewarm. Pour over cream cheese layer. Spread evenly. Top with remaining Cool Whip.

From the Eating Wild cookbook prepared by the Otero County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico 1999.

Prickly Pear Cookies

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup prickly pear juice

1 egg

1/4 cup prickly pear fruit peeled, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup maraschino cherries

1-1/3 cup flour

1/4 cup chopped pecans
Cream butter and sugar. Blend in sour cream, egg and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients and blend in sour cream mixture. Add prickly pear juice, fruit, cherries and nuts. Drop from teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Makes 2-1/2 dozen cookies.

Nancy Weinert developed these cookies in her University of Arizona experimental foods class.

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