Thursday, October 18, 2012

Prickly Pears: A How To

I've never been a big cactus fan, but we inherited a group of prickly pear bushes that were growing in our chicken run when we bought the house (you can probably scavenge them around your area too if you look hard enough). As my husband hates to pull up any green and growing thing, I have to pick my battles on what I try to get rid of. This year however, I gotta say I had fun harvesting and processing the fruit with him. It's been a long while since he and I were able to work on a food/garden project together because someone usually has to be keeping an eye on the Wee One. Claire was a good girl for this project though, and went down for her nap when we started and woke up from it just as we were cleaning up.

The biggest thing to deal with when working with prickly pears are the thorns. Its not so much the big obvious thorns that will get you. What you need to be concerned with is the layer of fine as peach fuzz thorns that also cover the fruit. How to get rid of all of these thorns is the subject of this post, along with lots of fun pictures involving fire and the like.

After a little online research, Jeff found the best way to get rid of the thorns was fire. Other ways that people take care of them is by rolling them in sand or straw/weeds. Fire won for many reasons like it sounded more fun, less labor intensive, more effective at getting rid of all those little buggers that are so fine you can't see them and we happened to have a fire pit full of wood in our back yard. The Internet recommended using a blow torch, but I think our way was more romantic and probably the way great grand pappy would have done it. Well, that is if our great grand pappy's were a little less European.

The basics of the process is as follows.

1) When your prickly pears have turned a nice red color, carefully pick them with a pair of tongs. We found the kind you'd use in the kitchen (as opposed to BBQ tongs) worked best for this step. The fruit will be pretty delicate so just gently twist and pull until it pops off. DO NOT TOUCH THE FRUIT WITH YOUR BARE HANDS!!

2) Whatever fire source you are using needs to be big in the flames department. You want them to actually lick the fruit. Using BBQ tongs, roll your fruit around in the flames until the skin becomes shiny and a little dark. Be sure to pay special attention to the ends of the fruit where the big thorns are. Heavy gloves to protect your hands from the heat are recommended.

3) Place your fruit in a bucket of icy water to cool.

4) Peel the fruit by cutting off the ends and then running your knife along the sides. The skins should come off pretty easily.

And that's all it takes my friends! This was effective enough at taking off the thorns that I didn't wear any gloves to peal them. I'd be lying if I said no thorns poked me, but after a good hand washing they seemed to all come out. We harvested five gallons of prickly pears and juiced them. In my next post I'll let you know what we made with them!



After a while we realized doing one at a time was a waste of time.


Well I'm pretty sure my grandpa never juiced prickly pear back in his day, but this juicer of his still has a lot of life left in it.

The final product.


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