Prickly pears are a type of cactus found growing from in the American west all the way to the deep south.. 0. compressa is the dominate species in the southeast. Two other species, 0. drummondi and 0. vulgaxis, can occasionally be found in the coastal plain region of the southeast. Prickly pears usually grow in sandy or rocky soil. Prickly pears have a delicious fruit that is outstanding in jellies and jams. Be very careful when gathering this fruit because the prickly pear is covered with tiny bristles (it's called prickly pear for a reason). Its a good idea to wear gloves when gathering the fruit. The dried seeds can be ground up and used for flour. Even the cactus pads of the prickly pear can be eaten. The pads are often found in latino or speciality store they will be labeled as nopal or nopales. They are sometimes found with the bristles removed, but they can be easily prepared by simply taking a knife, scrape the bristles off, cut all around the margin of the pad, then scrub with a brush. The pads can then be cut up, boiled in water for 10-15 minutes and served as a side dish, add to tacos or fajitas.
To prepare the fruit, cut off each end and peel. Take the fruit and then puree in a blender or food processor, strain out the sends and use the thick juice in your favorite jelly or jam recipe. You can be really hip and use the juice in your favorite margarita recipe, prickly pear margaritas are all the rage!
Growing your own Prickly Pear
The Prickly Pear pictured at the top of this post is in a container, it was gathered in Mentone, Alabama over 20 years ago and has lived in Maine, Texas and Alabama. It blooms each year and produces tons of fruit. You can start your prickly pear in a container, simply take a pad, stick it in the soil and it will root and start growing. They are very hardy and this one even survived the extreme winters of Maine, although sometimes I would feel sorry for it and put it in the garage!
The Prickly Pear Cookbook by Carolyn Niethammer, photography by Robin Stancliff
I highly recommend the Prickly Pear Cookbook, it is a beautiful book with a introduction to the Prickly Pear,basics for harvesting and preparing and recipes for beverages, appetizers, salads and dressings, backed goods, preserves, sauces, main dishes, side dishes and desserts. Some of the recipes include Nopalito Salsa, Prickly Pear Tiramisu, Prickly Pear Lemonade, over 50 recipes with photo's. Purchase the book from Amazon by clicking on the book image below: