- Author: Maureen Clark
Is it a fish? Are we talking about a piano? Are we talking about REO Speedwagon? No, not in this instance.
It's the Opuntia cactus. The fruit is called Tuna, Prickly Pear, Sabra, and Cactus Apple.
I love this cactus for its fruit. It's a jolly red color when it's ripe. To pick the fruit you need to be very careful! It's spiny! First, you have to chop the tuna off the plant. Bring a long, sharp knife. I use two sets of goat gloves (the spines are very small and get into your skin). And newspaper inside of a bag to transport them.
So, once I've wrangled my tunas off the plant and brought them home. Now what to do with them? Still using my gloves, I use the back of a knife and scrape the bristles off, then cut the skin off. I like to puree the fruit in a blender. I feed the fruit (spines removed) sparingly to my tortoises, I make my famous Prickly Pear syrup and use it for pancakes and drinks. If you have extra syrup you can always freeze it.
The spines are a nuisance. The Opuntia have bigger spines and small bristles (Glochids) with backward-facing barbs in the areoles. Which easily get caught under your skin. So How do I remove these nasty spines and bristles? I use tweezers for the big spines. For the bristles I apply white craft glue, then a thin layer of gauze. Let it dry for 15-20 minutes, then slowly peel it off. Sometimes you have to apply it a couple of times. Duct tape is my second choice when I don't; have glue. I've also used my pruners to scrape off the bristles when I'm in the field. I've read that Nylon stockings and body wax work too, but I've never tried them. Wash the area well and apply antibacterial cream after you've removed the intruders.
Happy Tuna Wrangling!