Twenty percent of sales at Saturday’s Prickly Pear Festival will go to aiding the visually impaired. Admission is free.

Jeffry Scott / Arizona Daily Star

At this festival, barbecue sauce, jelly and beer share one ingredient: prickly pear.

The Prickly Pear Festival this Saturday, organized by the Educating and Mentoring for the Visually Impaired Association (EMVIA), will host vendors who specialize in whipping up a dish or piece of art that showcases prickly pear.

Twenty percent of vendors’ sales and a silent auction will benefit EMVIA, and several low-vision agencies will be represented among the vendors, says Debbie Schaab, the event organizer and an EMVIA volunteer.

At a kids’ corner, children can learn to write their names in Braille, and furry friends from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the Hermitage Cat Shelter will be on hand for cuddling. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department, accompanied by McGruff the Crime Dog, and the Tucson Fire Department will also dole out safety tips.

All of it coincides with EMVIA’s purpose to provide resources and mentoring for anyone learning to live with a visual impairment.

“I think it’s very important to make these things known,” Schaab says. “When you lose your vision to any degree, there goes your independence and self-esteem and everything.”

The festival’s focus on prickly pear is well-timed since harvesting season is now.

“We think and breathe prickly pear at this time of year,” says Cheri Romanoski, owner of Cheri’s Desert Harvest, a 29-year-old Tucson-based company that makes jellies, syrups, candies and other prickly pear goodies. A variety of treats will be available, along with new $17 to $25 T-shirts colored with a prickly pear dye.

Romanoski says the fruit’s flavor is delicate, comparable to watermelon, and known to have antioxidants, vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties.

Todd Scott, chef and owner of Todd’s Restaurant at Ryan Air Field, uses prickly pear in his homemade barbecue sauce and a variety of other dishes on the menu, including salad dressings, coleslaw, tea, even pecan pie and omelettes. At the festival, a 15-ounce bottle of sauce goes for $7. Expect samples.

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett

Writing about Tucson's heart and soul — its people, its kindness, its faith — for #ThisIsTucson.