Living in the dessert I don't have much of a garden. I keep a few herbs on the back deck protected from the deadly Arizona sun but fresh veggies and fruits are more work than I have time for. The one thing I do have in abundance are a variety of cactus and one day it occurred to me that I do have at least one fruit in my yard that could be used in a cocktail and other goodies. I grabbed my barbecue tongs, gloves and went a-harvesting.
Prickly pears protect themselves from the fauna of the desert with long, nasty spikes so you don't want to attempt to pick them with bare hands. If you just use gloves the gloves will get impregnated by the stickers and you'll be stuck sooner or later, so tongs are the perfect answer. You simply grab the fruit completely in the tongs and twist them off the nopales (the "Leaf").
My prickly pear fruits had a decidedly watermelon/kiwi flavor to them with, to my palate at least, a hint of cucumber. The fruit is heavily populated in the center with tough, black seeds which are supposedly edible but I strained them out along with any pulp. The fruit is a wonderful, dark magenta if perfectly ripe which brings a great amount of color to your cocktails.
According to the U.C. Small Farm Program, the flavor of the fruit “depends on the variety but includes strawberries, watermelons, honeydew melons, figs, bananas, and citrus. You can eat them raw, at room temperature or chilled, and alone or with lemon juice. They can be cooked into jams and preserves or cooked down into a syrup as a base for jelly and candy. This syrup can be reduced even further into a dark red or black paste that is fermented into a potent alcoholic drink called 'coloncha'. The fruit pulp can be dried and ground into flour for baking into small sweet cakes, or stored for future use.”
The reddish-purple prickly pear fruit (tuna) is high in antioxidants, Vitamin C and is purported to be prized as a hangover cure. Also known as the Cactus Pear and Indian Fig, the Prickly Pear is a part of the genus Opunti.
Here are the steps I took to get my Prickly Pear Juice:
First I washed all the pears in a strong stream of water, to clean them and remove as many of the soft glochids* as possible. Put on gardening gloves to do this! Grab the pear by both ends in several layers of paper towels and scrape off the rest of the glochids with a sharp paring knife.
Rinse the pear again to wash any of glochids off everything.
Slice off both ends, split the fruit down the middle and scrap the fruit out of the skin.
Puree all the fruit in a blender or food processor.
Strain this into a container through a fine metal strainer to remove seeds and pulp.
Have some tweezers and a magnifying glass handy in case you missed any glochids and they found their way onto your poor body.
I got one ounce of fresh juice from about eight small, ripe prickly pears. The darker purple the fruit the more ripe it is. Try to get to them before the critters do, we have wild javelina out here and they love prickly pear fruit.
While it was a fun and educating experience, after the day long, painful process with its disappointing yield, I have come to the conclusion that the javelina can have the prickly pear tunas in my yard. I'm just going to buy ready made cactus products.
THE PRICKLY PEAR
A Little Bit of the Arizona Desert in a Cocktail Glass
1-1/2 Oz. Vodka
Juice of 1 Fresh Lime
Juice of 1/2 Fresh Lemon
1 Oz. Prickly Pear Juice
(If using Prickly Pear Syrup instead of juice, use 1/2 ounce and leave out the agave syrup!**)
1/2 Tsp. Dark Agave Syrup
Several Drops of Chipotle Sauce
1/8 Tsp of Lime Salt
Garnish: Jalapeno (Spicy) Chili Gummy Candies, Lime Wedge
Tools: Cocktail Shaker
Glass: Cocktail (Martini)
Chill your cocktail glass in the freezer.
Fill your cocktail shaker with ice, add the ingredients and shake until well chilled.
Strain into your chilled glass, garnish and serve.
A few days later I also made this fun, loaded Cactus Pear Margarita.
I found this lovely Cheri's Prickly Pear Syrup at the Tucson botanical gardens, but it is available on Amazon:
* Glochids are those teeny, fuzzy little stickers you can barely see and they are most irritating as they seem to be able to travel to unsuspecting areas. (When I was scrubbing, scraping and scooping out my fruit, several of the little buggers ended up in my fingers but one even ended up in a toe! There are so fine that you have to backlight them just to see them so you can grab the tops with tweezers and get them out. Nasty little buggers.)
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY