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How to Prepare Prickly Pear Fruit:
FOODIES WEST Test Kitchen


    

BACKGROUND LOWDOWN:
We contacted Amy Valdes Schwemm of Desert Harvesters in Tucson, AZ to find out the best way to harvest and process prickly pear fruit. DH is a community educational organization that educates the public about harvesting and processing desert foods. DH also promotes local food production by encouraging the planting of diverse food-bearing shade trees (such as the Velvet mesquite), shrubs and cacti in association with water-harvesting earthworks, 

                 
 

     

 Chef Jeremy Pacheco (LONS at the Hermosa Inn) stands by a prickly pear full of ripe fruit.

We also talked with John Slattery of Desert Tortoise Botanicals in Tucson, AZ to learn more about prickly pear fruit. John is a certified herbalist who blends formal herbalism with traditional methods from the native peoples in the Borderlands. Most of his clients and customers use the juice for its anti-inflammatory properties and for energy. DTB is one of the country's few sources for pure prickly pear juice.



           

  STEP #1:
  A Tutorial to Prickly Pear Harvesting


PRICKLY PEAR IN BUD:

      

PRICKLY PEAR IN TUB:

     


Here's what you need:

1.  Metal tongs
2.  Bucket for gathering
3.  Gloves (optional, see below)
4.  Watch out for glochids

                                                               

Amy's advice:

When I wear gloves, I'm not as careful, and they get full of glochids. I have to clean the gloves  or throw them out. I find I'm more careful when I don't wear gloves. Just be careful. Use metal tongs.
  
Most of the Opuntia clan, to which prickly pear cactuses belong, have individual spines, which you can see and avoid or remove easily with tweezers. More importantly, they have glochids, colonies of tiny hair-fine spines that stick in your skin en masse. You will need a magnifying glass and tweezers to see and remove them.


  STEP #2: The Harvest



Look for the pric
kly pear cactuses with the ripest fruit.
The fruit should be purple at the attached part. It should not be green.

       


John's advice:

Most people think the fruit is ripe when the color changes. But it will often have a sourness. You know it's ripe when you touch the fruit and it falls off, or if the skin tears. The sweeter the fruit, the stronger the medicinal properties.

                                                        






Carefully grab the fruit with the metal tongs, and give the fruit a twist. It should almost fall off into your bucket.

     

      


 



Amy's advice:

Prickly pear is a popular food for a lot of animals and insects as well as a lot of people.I've seen honey bees drawing right from the fruit
.


           Birds feasting on cactus fruit.

Though very abundant, harvest some and leave some.





 STEP #3:  Processing the Fruit


#1 - Clean the fruit. Fill the sink with cold water and stir the fruit with a large spoon.  

               
#2 - Break down the fruit.

Amy suggests:

Freeze the whole fruit and defrost. It will be mushy enough to strain--or

              
             
put the fruit--spines, glochids, and all--into a blender or food processor and puree.





            


#3 - Strain the thawed or pureed fruit. First through a metal strainer (above) and then through tight-woven cloth, such as an old (clean) tee shirt or pillowcase.
                                             
           







    







Fresh prickly pear juice may harbor Clostridium botulinum bacteria, aka botulism.



    


John's advice:

Cook the juice just to keep on the safe side. Boil it over 200-degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. This may alter the vitamins, as Vitamin C is affected by heat. But in my experience, it does not change the anti-inflammatory properties
.




     
    

  WHAT TO DO WITH THE JUICE: 
Here's what Amy suggests:

Drink recipes abound, we drink gallons of p-pear lemon ade. Try adding it to your homemade kombucha! Or try this barbeque sauce/rub that incorporates p-pear reduction as it's main ingredient!

Ingredients:

~ P-pear reduction (best in your solar oven, reduce strained prickly pear juice to a thick sauce)

~ Add as desired: roasted ancho and chipotle chiles molido, roasted mesquite flour, roasted garlic, ginger, salt, vinegar (make it from prickly pears!) and love of place

~ Simmer until flavors blow your mind!

Compliments of Barbara Rose of Bean Tree Farm and Amy Valdes Schwemm of Mano Y Metate), Desert Harvesters and locavores.



    



John suggests drinking 2 to 4 ounces of juice for:

  • pain relief
  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • before a workout for more optimal performance
  • after a workout
  • for an energy boost.
John & Amy's advice:

Freeze the juice in ice cube trays and store the cubes in a sealed container.