- Author: Lauria Watts
As I drive around I check out stuff. New streets, new areas, places to shop, ideas for landscaping. Landscaping, hmmm. Cactus plants are pretty common. The big fleshy pads (nopal or nopalitos) are edible and just as tasty as green beans when properly prepared (or buy a bag from the produce section at your local Mexican or middle-American ethnic market).
At times I see the large egg-shaped fruit of the cactus (AKA prickly pears in English) in markets in big red, yellow or orange piles. These fruits, known in Spanish as “tunas” (singular “tuna”), are quite edible. Sweet, they are used to make jams, jellies, syrups and desserts and can be used to make brine to pickle other plant edibles. Oftentimes you will see prickly pear jelly in roadside stores in the southwest.
So you have some on your property? Your neighbor's property? There are some growing over someone's back fence? Pick your own or ask permission and pick someone else's. Most people are happy to let you pick, especially if you promise (and deliver!) results of your pickings from their plants.
You will want to avoid pricklies and thorns from the prickly pears. So arm yourself with a little knowledge for a special canning project. Make yourself some sweet treats and gifts from the cactus plant.
Here are some links to New Mexico State University sites for picking, processing and cooking or canning with tunas/prickly pear fruits. Remember, even though tart the prickly pears are a low acid fruit and the pads/nopals are as well:
https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_e/E217/welcome.html Cactus Concoctions: How to Prepare and Use Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit and Pads. Here you will read a brief history of the cactus used for nopals and prickly pears/tunas. You will want to follow the instructions on how to pick and process prickly pears so to avoid the spines and glochids (mini-spines).