Harvesting Prickly Pear Fruit
It’s not hard to find prickly pear fruit. You either have it growing in your yard, at your workplace, or places where you shop. As with foraging anything, the hard part is often getting over the fear of people watching you or even asking for permission. I often find things to forage in shopping center parking lots or on the side of the road. It may take a few guts to get out there, but just do it.
Get yourself a pair of tongs and a bucket and put it in your car. The next time you are out and you see an available Prickly Pear cactus loaded with fruit, go get some of it. Go at times that are least busy, or knock on the door of a house with a large patch. Usually it isn’t even noticeable that you picked any, even if you filled a 5 gallon bucket. Sometimes it’s fun to just give yourself a time limit, like 15 minutes to collect all you can. This way you realize that it doesn’t really take that long.
Where to find Prickly Pear Fruit
As stated above, Prickly Pear Cactus are one of the ubiquitous landscape plants in Arizona. They spread and grow quickly from seed and pads, so they are a favorite for filling in spaces. There are a variety of Prickly Pear species, and their fruit are all edible, but the red-fruiting ficus-indica are the most prolific.
Prickly pear that gets some irrigation are usually more full of plump fruit than those you will find in the wild. If you find a large patch on the side of the road, don’t hesitate to pull over if it is a safe location to do so.
When to harvest Prickly Pear Fruit
Just like Jojoba, Prickly Pear Fruit are ready to harvest July through September. The fruit go from green to pink to vibrant red to gone. The birds love to eat the fruit, so try to get to them before they are gone or full of holes. You want the most plump, red fruit you can find.
How to Pick and Juice Prickly Pear Fruit
To harvest the fruit make sure to bring a pair of tongs. You don’t want to touch the fruit because it has very fine glochids that embed themselves in your skin very easily. If you do get them in your hands, keep a pair of tweezers nearby (like in your pocket). Use the tongs to grab and twist the fruit until it comes off. drop it in your bucket and keep going until you have as much as you want.
When you get home, simply fill the bucket with water and rinse the fruit off. Drain the bucket and bring it inside.
Here is what you need for Juicing:
- Blender I use a VitaMix
- Mesh colander
- Large bowl that fits your colander
- Long-handled spoon or rubber spatula
- Jars to hold juice
- Funnel that fits your jars
Steps for juicing:
- Fill your blender with fruit and put the lid on.
- Pulse and blend until the fruit is liquified. There will be lots of very hard seeds in the fruit, and you are not trying to liquify those.
- Pour the contents of the blender into the mesh colander and use the spoon or spatula to stir the pulp as it strains.
- Once the bowl is full of juice, pour it into jars and refrigerate until using it.
Note: Prickly Pear juice does not stain. I have strained it through a white pillow case that turned beautifully pink and you would never know after I washed it. I was a little disappointed, but it’s good to know that the pink splatter is not permanent.
What to do with Prickly Pear Juice
Prickly Pear Juice is not vey sweet. It has its own flavor that is enhanced with sweeter like sugar or honey. You can also use it for the color in a variety of things without adding a lot of flavor.
Here are some of my favorite Prickly Pear uses…
- Pink Prickly Pear Lemonade
- Prickly Pear syrup for pancakes or coctails or yogurt
- Prickly Pear jellies
- Prickly Pear and chipotle sauce
- Prickly Pear pickled eggs
- Prickly Pear jelly
If you would like to grow Prickly Pear Cactus yourself, simply take a pad or two and plant them. You’ll have your own fruit to harvest in a couple years. If you composted that pulp, you may have lots of prickly pear cactus growing without even knowing it because there are thousands of seeds in there.