Find prickly pear treats, recipes and harvesting tips at the festival next Saturday, Aug. 29.

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. 

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.

  1. While whisking vigorously, pour a slow stream of olive oil into the prickly pear reduction.
  2. Once the mixture thickens, whisk in orange juice to desired consistency then add remaining ingredients to your preference.

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