So there I was, stalking the wild prickly pear cactus. With tongs in hand, I gave each fruit a quick twist.
Within 10 minutes I had 6 pounds — and all without even a scratch.
After attending a demonstration at a farmers market last week — and blogging about it, of course — I knew I had to try harvesting them for myself.
So I grabbed my best pair of tongs and a heavy paper bag and headed out into the wilds … of an empty lot near my house.
The picking was super easy and a few days later I made my first batch of prickly pear lemonade — perfect for a hot summer day.
Here’s what I learned along the way:
- Remain vigilant as you rinse, blend, mash, strain or otherwise come into contact with these little buggers — the tiny spines, called glochids, are just waiting for you to make a mistake.
- Easiest method for extracting juice? Rinse, freeze overnight, let thaw and mash through a strainer lined with a fine cloth like a T-shirt. That’s it: No need to burn off spines, peel or chop.
- If you need to speed up the thawing process, toss the bowl into the microwave.
- Leave plenty of time for the pulp to dribble juice into the bowl. Mash with tongs or a spoon occasionally.
- Don’t use a sponge for cleanup unless you’re planning to throw it out. Yeah, I learned that one the hard way.
- Two pounds make about 1½ cups of juice.
- Six pounds of fruit were not enough, so I will head back out this weekend to a secret spot in the Foothills to collect more.
- Always keep a hat in your car.
- I really need to clean out my freezer.
For more details, read “9 tips for harvesting and preparing prickly pear fruit.”
Prickly pear lemonade
Here’s a basic prickly pear lemonade recipe. I can’t call it my recipe since I pulled it off the Internet, but I did test it out and tweak it slightly.
1 1/4 cups fresh prickly pear juice (not syrup)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons of organic agave nectar or sugar
1 cup water
Blend, chill and serve over ice. If it’s too tart for your taste, add more sugar or nectar. Add a splash of vodka, tequila or champagne to each glass for an adult beverage.
Prickly pear vinaigrette
This one's from Eunice Gonzalez of Yuni Foods, a local catering company.
1/2 cup organic, extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup prickly pear juice or reduction
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Season to taste with salt & pepper
Add poppy seeds or sesame seeds for garnish.
- While whisking vigorously, pour a slow stream of olive oil into the prickly pear reduction.
- Once the mixture thickens, whisk in orange juice to desired consistency then add remaining ingredients to your preference.
Find Yuni Foods on Facebook at www.facebook.com/yunifoods