How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

How do you cut and prepare prickly pear cactus? Carefully. Here's a step-by-step guide with photos and recipe suggestions.

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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.

2 Make one long vertical slice down the body of the prickly pear.

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.

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.

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 professional writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in many print and online publications such as Gourmet Live, Saveur, Huffington Post, Smithsonian, and NPR. Past clients also include numerous food companies, wineries, and distilleries. Garrett writes about cocktails on his website, Coupe de Grace.

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 61 Comments

  • Arlene Wheeler

    After cleaning off the thorns, I cut the pear apples in half, put in tall pan, cover with water and boil for 3-4 hours until softened. Pour juice and pear apples through a stainless steel cone canning sieve colander and using the wooden pestle press out the juice and some pulp. Discard the skin, seeds left in the colander. When all the juice is extracted, I wash the colander and pestle and put a cloth in the colander pour the juice through a second time which leaves only the juice. Discard cloth and remaining seeds etc. 6cups juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 8 to 10 cups sugar 1/2 tsp butter, 2 2/3 pkgs SureJel. Heat juice add surejell, bring to boil. Add butter, lemon juice and sugar, bring to boil and boil for 4 minutes. Put in washed jars leaving 1 inch to top. Place lids, that have been in hot water for 5 minutes, on jars and apply rings. Put in boiling bath canner that has hot water covering the jars 2 to 3 inches. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner with jar remover tongs. Cover with towel. You will hear a click when jars seal. Makes 7 pints.

  • Michael Czajka

    Pickly pear wine!!! Yum

    One of the local wineries makes it.

    :-)

  • selekta

    here we made prickly pear syrup, no sugar added, suitable to prepare pancake, ice cream, spreading…

  • Minnie Koster

    I would like a recipe to make prickly pear jam please. If you can help me please.

  • 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.

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How to Cut and Prepare Prickly PearsHow to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears