How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Please welcome Garrett McCord as he shows us how to cut up a prickly pear. ~Elise

Known to few, the fruit of the nopales cactus (cacti with beaver tail-like paddles), are actually quite edible. Called prickly pears, these neon fruit provide delicious juice that tastes like a cross between all-natural bubble gum (if indeed there is such a thing) and watermelon.

Prickly pear juice is often used to make jam or candy, but works wonders in cocktails and used in vinaigrettes for salads.

I’ve used the juice to flavor cream cheese frosting for a lime flavored cupcake, and have seen others boil it down with a bit of orange and lemon juice to make a sauce for fruit salads and cheesecakes.

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

Many Mexican markets, farmers markets, and some natural food supermarkets carry prickly pears, but you can find these plants growing in California, the Southwest, Mexico, and the Mediterranean.

Be warned though, while the ones in markets have been cleaned of the tiny hair-like thorns, the ones fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to handle them with heavy leather work gloves and scrub them hard to ensure all the painful little barbs are off.

Either way, handle them carefully or with gloves just in case.

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

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Method

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.

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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.

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.

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Use the juice as you like. Depending on the size of the prickly pears, 6 to 12 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.

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Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a food writer, writing instructor, culinary consultant, freelance food photographer, and recipe developer who shares his enthusiasm for food and the written word through his blog Vanilla Garlic. Garrett's cookbook, co-authored with Stephanie Stiavetti, is Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

More from Garrett

Do you have a favorite prickly pear recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Links:

Prickly pear cactus mojito by Feed Your Vegetarian

Prickly pear juice with lime, ginger, and honey from Ilva of Lucullian Delights

Tuna Juice from Rambling Spoon (prickly pear is also called tuna)

Prickly Pear Juice

Showing 4 of 54 Comments

  • Barbara

    I just got some prikly pears, they are small, I have cleaned them, peeled them, put them in my ninja, out it thru a strainer to rove the seeds. But what was left seems stringy. I am putting it yet
    Thru the server again. Is it still good to make jelly or jam. It is not juice clear.

  • JOHN LOPEZ

    when is the best time to pick them I would like to make some fruit leather rout of them?

  • gail orlando

    I made Prickley pear jelly last year and it was clear and a hit with everyone who tried it. This year the juice is cloudy and the jelly is still tasty but not as good. why is the juice so cloudy?

  • Jeni

    Thanks for the helpful article & comments. We live in San Antonio, TX and love prickly pears. It’s been several years since we went through the trouble to make jelly. We found some roadside yesterday that were too good to pass up (and we happened to have a leather welding glove with us) so we filled a grocery sack. After all the advice here we decided to try luck with a few ideas. We cut and peeled one, but found the seeds rock hard (as some of the comments noted) so it didn’t yield much flesh otherwise. We burned the prickles with our gas range (note: now I have to clean them off the range top); then we juiced them whole, having to rinse the machine a few times as we went. The juice was ok raw, but we decided to make syrup instead. It’s been great as a dessert topping and in drinks (can’t wait to try with lemonade). We did 2 batches: the first we strained 1.75 cups with 1 cup sugar and reduced. It was great and beautiful – almost neon purple. Then we tried 3 cups unstrained with 1.5 cups honey and reduced it. The honey masked the flavor a bit and it lost the color (strange) and was a light caramel brown (like the honey), so we won’t be using that next time.

  • Elise

    Hi Fredrik, I knew that prickly pear expanded throughout the Mediterranean but hadn’t heard that it had been imported to and spread over Australia as well!

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