Harvesting Prickly Pear Fruit

There is a vitamin rich treat waiting for you within the thorny exterior of the abundant and colorful prickly pear cactus.  When the desert is full of the gorgeous magenta fruit shown in this picture (usually in late summer), it means they are ready to be harvested. 

To harvest, use metal tongs and gently twist to remove fruit from the plant when it is at its deep, magenta ripeness peak.  You can usually tell when it is ripe enough to be harvested when the birds begin to feast on it or the fruit drops to the ground.  If the fruit is still green where it attaches to the pad, it is not quite ready to harvest. 

Once you have twisted the fruit from the plant, drop it into a large pail.  Do not touch the fruit without gloves and use caution when picking and handling the fruit, especially on a windy day.  The small short reddish stickers (glochids) can easily become airborne and land on you and stick in your skin, or worse, get into your eyes. 

Be sure to gather prickly pear from your own property or with the permission of the property owner.  It is illegal illegal to gather plants, fruit, seeds or plant parts from City, County, State or Federal lands or public roadways without written permission. Always be a good citizen of mother nature's generosity by leaving some of the fruit for the animals, as they need food too.  

Once you've removed the fruit rinse off the dirt and discard any damaged or diseased parts.  Then use the tongs to load a batch into your blender. Process until liquefied and pour about 3/4 tbs. of the liquid mixture into a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth that has been placed over a large bowl. This will strain out all of the seeds and stickers and you will have a prickly pear juice that can be used or frozen for drinks, sauces, syrups, jellies, etc. Toss the pulp in your compost pile.  Be sure to refrigerate the juice immediately after straining. 

Another method to cut and prepare Prickly Pears is offered by Garret McCord:

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

1 Slice both ends of the prickly pear off. Discard them.

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2 Make one long vertical slice down the body of the prickly pear.

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3 Slip your finger into the slice and grab a hold of the skin.

4 Begin to peel back the thick fleshy skin that's wrapped around the prickly pear. Discard the skin. You'll be left with the prickly pear itself. The flesh is studded with tons of little edible seeds, if you like them, feel free to just chop the prickly pear up and eat, seeds and all.

I myself prefer just the juice. To extract the juice, place the "husked" prickly pears into a blender or food processor and pulse until liquefied. Place the juice into a fine mesh sieve and push out the juice into a pitcher or bowl. Discard the remaining pulp and seeds.

Use the juice as you like. About four prickly pears will get you about 1 cup of juice. It's great mixed in with some fresh lemonade, just use equal parts of prickly pear juice to lemonade.

If you have a delicious prickly pear fruit recipe to share with us, please fill out the form below as I'd love to hear what you like doing with this Southwest delicacy.