The Many Uses of the Prickly Pear

The opuntia, or prickly pear cactus, produces luscious fruit that can be made into jelly, wine and many other products.

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    Always wear gloves when harvesting prickly pear fruit.
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    The flowers of the opuntia are not only beautiful, they lead to tasty fruit.
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    Each opuntia flower lasts only a day.
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    You can make jam, wine and pie from prickly pears.
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    You can make prickly pear wine in a homemade system.

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If you're like most people, you probably don't think of cacti—those spiny denizens of the desert—as fruit-bearing plants. Bebe (Cactus Lady) Bruce says "Think again! Some cacti live a long way from the dry Southwest and bear luscious fruit that can be made into jelly, wine, and many other products ... all of which have a definite market value!"

The opuntia—commonly called the prickly pear cactus—is perhaps the best-known and best-loved cactus in the world today. Best-known because it's so widely distributed (you'll find opuntias from California to Florida to Europe to the West Indies). Best-loved because of the bountiful yield of pulpy, red, deliciously tangy fruits—or "prickly pears"—this cactus produces every fall.

My own love affair with the opuntia began one afternoon as I was walking my dog down a dusty road outside the small, west-Texas town to which I'd recently moved. At one point, my canine friend stopped to sniff a ripe, crimson-colored, half-eaten (by a bird) fruit that had—apparently—fallen from a clump of cacti growing out of a rocky ledge above the road.

Like a true city bumpkin I picked up the partially devoured fruit, carried it home, showed it to my neighbor, and asked: "Isn't this what folks use to make prickly pear jelly?"

"Yep! Sure is," my friend replied. She then told me the name of an elderly lady in a nearby community who made the jelly and who could give me the recipe.

Thus began a prickly pear recipe collection that has since swollen to include jam, preserves, pie, wine, and a vitamin C-rich pear-juice "cooler," among others. My "romance" with the prickly pear has turned out to be a long and—well— fruitful one.

11/16/2019 10:13:52 AM

In the homemade wine recipe, is that just regular baking yeast you are using? Thanks!

8/3/2019 10:38:51 AM

Excellent, thank you! Ours are getting ripe. Barbeque tongs work! Fun facts, the deer are moving down from the mountains for these. Javalia tracks in the brush make for an interesting, if nervous morning. At this time, we're juicing the small one that ripen before the giant nopale. Our turn a purplish red with a yeast bloom when highest in sugar. No green nopales here, but plenty of fruit and nopalitos in the canner and freezer. Add enough water to cover, bring to a simmer till tender. Turn it off and allow to cool, then use the food processor to pulp. Drain juice thru a colander will leave seeds and most of the spines behind. That mess goes on the garden for quail to pick thru before it gets turned under. While they're at it, they'll take any spiders and scorpions they find. Another fun fact, mesquite ripens ahead of the fruit, so we get a good look at what's where. Some cactus patches put out a mess of fruit one year, and very little the next, so it's good to know what patches to go to, rather than run all over. BTW, aloes grow all over the yard, and thank God for that. The juice is great to coat thorn scratches and heals them fast. :) Well, got to go pull a few thorns from my hide. Niio!

8/2/2016 2:47:33 AM

Hi I like the information about prickly pear and I was curious what we can make from it like jam, i am interested in how to make jam from prickly pear and what other ingredient need to get healthy with no added sugar jam.



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