|Prickly Pear cactus with ripe fruits.|
|Desert Tulip Prickly Pear flower blooming in April (Opuntia phaeacantha)|
In Mexico, South America, and the Mediterranean region domestic Prickly Pears are cultivated for both their pads and fruit. Depending on the variety, large red, green, yellow, or orange fruits can be produced. In the wild however, red is the only edible fruit color. Many different species produce edible fruits, but in the Sonoran Desert Engelmann's and the Desert Tulip Prickly Pears (Opuntia engelmannii and phaeacantha) are probably the most abundant that produce edible fruits. Many species produce inedible fruits, but they aren't poisonous, the fruits simply dry out before they can be eaten. Native Americans generally did not eat too many fruits at one time however, being too many fruits can produce a fever for some unknown reason. The same is true today, if you eat wild prickly pear fruit don't eat too many, or you likely will be running a fever. The fruits are extremely tasty and refreshing, something like a cross between strawberry and watermelon.
How to Harvest Prickly Pear Fruit
1. Find a Prickly Pear cactus with red fruits on it during the months of July or August. Fruits will taste different depending on their color, species, location, and time of day harvested. Experiment and find what tastes best to you, but don't worry about it, if ripe they all taste pretty darn good.
2. Using a grill tongs pick the fruit off the cactus. The tongs will help you avoid being poked by the spines. A few dozen fruits will be plenty to start.
3. Freeze the fruits for several days. This burst the cells containing the juice.
4. Thaw out the fruits and then mash them in a bowl.
5. Once the fruits are mashed, strain out the juice into another container.
6. This juice should be boiled and can be used for a variety of different recipes. I simply like to drink some of it.
Another version of the above is to place the fruits in water and boil. Boiling, like freezing, bursts cells releasing the juice. After boiling, mash the fruits and strain out the juice.
Website with Prickly Pear fruit recipes: http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,prickly_pear,FF.html