This is a contributor post from Julie at GardenKeepr.
Author information available at the bottom of this post.
One thing we’ve learned in this, our first year gardening in Texas, is that late summers are tough; few garden plants can survive the combination of heat, blazing sun, and lack of water that characterize the July-August months in central Texas.
But we couldn’t help notice that at the same time everything else in our garden has been petering out with a dry, sputtering cough (ourselves included), the ubiquitous cactus plants that dot the fields are alive with deep purple fruit, ripe for those brave enough to risk a few prickles to gather it.
Foraging, in some ways, may be even more fun than gardening. After all, the only real work is gathering what’s there before you and having the knowledge to recognize it.
Certainly foraging requires less effort than gardening, and there’s nothing like the windfall of finding a patch of morels on a mountain slope or happening upon a tree full of ripe chestnuts. Everybody loves a free prize. Foraging is a great habit to develop and, like gardening, is another very real way to nurture a connection to where your food comes from. It also helps keeps us in pace with the seasons and be aware of the natural world around us. It reminds us to look closely and not neglect the wonderful things that are right in front of us.
Gathering prickly pears requires some caution and rewards a watchful eye.
Boots and heavy gloves are needed, and it’s smart to watch where you step. We gather them with tongs and avoid their prickly glochids like the plague. Once harvested, we like to eat them freshly picked with their seeds removed. They’re great blended into smoothies and mixed into yogurt or fruit salads, too, and add a wonderful splash of color to anything they come into contact with, fingers included. They have a cool, slightly sweet taste that’s very pleasant and refreshing and are quite unlike anything else we’ve ever tasted.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy prickly pear is this simple syrup. It’s a sweet treat to be sure, but that unique prickly pear taste really lends a unique touch to anything you put it on. Chris likes it splashed into a limeade — it’s one of his favorite hot-weather drinks (and even though fall is approaching, right now there seems to be no end in sight to the hot weather). It’s also tasty drizzled over vanilla ice cream and in yogurt. And perhaps best of all is what it does when drizzled upon a margarita at the end of the day; it’s absolutely sublime … and worth each and every glochid!
Fresh Prickly Pear Syrup Recipe
- 3 cups of prickly pear juice (approx. 5 lbs or so fresh prickly pears)
- 3 cups sugar (see #5 below)
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup Paula’s Texas Orange Liqueur
- 1-2 TBS citric acid (try 1 TBS, taste and add another if you like it more tart)
- Remove glochids (the tiny, nearly invisible “prickles”) from prickly pears, either with a torch, or by soaking the pears in ice water and allowing the glochids to float to the top. Even after removing glochids, we recommend wearing gloves – it’s hard to get them all.
- Wash and peel prickly pears, then puree in food processor.
- Strain pulp and seed mixture first through a sieve, then a fine mesh sieve, and then through cheesecloth.
- Measure juice. Depending on the size of the fruits, you’ll probably have around 3-4 cups.
- Combine 3 cups prickly pear juice and 3 cups sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil under medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool for 15 minutes then add lime juice, Paula’s Texas Orange, and citric acid to taste (should be pleasantly tart). Stir well.
- Pour into sterilized half-pint mason jars and seal. Either refrigerate or process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Notes: For certain, the hardest part of dealing with prickly pears are their prickles (or more scientifically, glochids). These supremely evolved little buggers will thwart your best efforts to avoid them and even still it is very rare that we don’t end up with a few strays in our hands. We recommend wearing heavy gloves and boots when harvesting, and using tongs to remove the fruits from the cactus. When processing the fruits, we usually spear them with a fork and use a vegetable peeler to skin them, avoiding contacting them with our hands as much as possible
Based on recommendations from others, we initially tried burning with a propane torch to remove the glochids, but this method proved way too time consuming. These days we generally just fill a 5 gallon bucket about half full with prickly pears and fill the bucket with a strong spray of water from the garden hose, stirring the fruits around like a stew, pausing to let the glochids float to the top, and dumping the water frequently. After 8-10 fills the fruits are mostly glochid free, though we still exercise great care in handling them.