Harvesting Prickly Pear Fruit

by autumn on August 26, 2014

Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pear Fruit // Autumn Makes & DoesIf there’s one thing I’ve learned definitively about harvesting and processing the bright magenta fruit of the prickly pear cactus, it’s that everyone pretty much does it their own way. Last week, we went over to Paul’s grandmother’s house and she put us to work on her prickly pears and gave me crash course on her process.

First, you pick. The most important advice about harvesting prickly pear fruit is: use tongs! There’s a reason they’re called prickly pears. You really don’t want to touch the small, fine, but painful clusters of mini splintery spikes called glochids. Ripe prickly pears are deep magenta (there are other colors too) and detach easily with a slight twist and pull of the tongs.

Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pear Fruit // Autumn Makes & Does

From the folks at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, I learned that you can pick a few branches of the plant called Desert Broom and use it to gently brush off some of the glochids before harvest. Where we are it is an invasive species, so I feel comfortable picking a bit, using it in my harvest, then discarding it.

Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pear Fruit // Autumn Makes & Does

After harvest is spike removal part two. We put them in a sink filled with water, stirred them around, then let them sit for a while. The combination of the water and the fruits hitting up against one another helps dislodge the glochids. They don’t need to be perfectly de-spined because we’re going to be straining the juice later. Other methods of mass spike removal that I’ve heard of include:

  • raking the fruits around on clean, level concrete, then washing
  • burning off the glochids (this works great for small quantities of fruit when you won’t be juicing it, such as an infusion)
  • shaking the fruits in a large jar or container with sand and gravel, then washing

Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pear Fruit // Autumn Makes & Does

Just to be safe, we then use tongs and paring knives to quarter the prickly pears lengthwise. We put them in a large pot and added just enough water to cover them, brought the whole thing to a boil, a reduced it to simmer 20 minutes. Then, we strained the juice through a clean kitchen towel to remove the seeds and skin, then refrigerated it. At this point, you can freeze the juice for future use or further process it into jelly, syrup, ice cream, margaritas, and other delicious things. (PS: I’ll have some prickly pear treats up for you on the blog this week.)

Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pear Fruit // Autumn Makes & DoesTo keep the juice raw, I have also seen folks run the de-spined fruit straight through the juicer. Depending on the quality of your juicer, there’s likely to still be some pulp in the resulting juice, so I strain the juiced prickly pear a second time through a clean towel for a nice clear, result.

If you’ve used or heard of other methods, please leave them in the comments!


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Casey@Good. Food. Stories. August 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Dude, you are living the good life out West! I love these new dispatches!


2 autumn August 26, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Haha! Thanks, Casey!:)


3 Erika August 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Awesome!.. Can’t wait to see what you made with the juice. Margaritas are always a good idea. 🙂


4 autumn August 26, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Oh, there have definitely been margaritas, Erika 🙂 Thank you!


5 Kelly @ Kelly Bakes August 26, 2014 at 11:51 pm

I am loving Cowgirl Autumn and her adventures in the wild, wild west!


6 autumn August 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Haha! And I didn’t even have my hat on in this pic 🙂


7 Shae September 12, 2014 at 11:15 pm

This is the coolest. I may never encounter a prickly pear, but now I know where to turn if I do. Love seeing you with the fruit in its natural habitat. 🙂


8 Nicole July 23, 2015 at 4:20 pm

When I make my jelly. I have made a simple way to complete the task. After harvesting I wash them in as simple strainer to wash off the dirt and what not. I stab each pear with a knife to check for one’s I do not want. I place pears thorns and all in a huge pot. I boil them with just enough water to cover them. When I can squish the pears easily with a fork I squash them with a potatoe smasher. When they are squashed to nothingness strain twice with cheese cloth. Then ur does. No stickers in ur fingers.


9 Terry December 12, 2015 at 3:43 pm

We make Prickly Pear wine at Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, New Mexico. The only problem is that the fluorescent fushia color fades quickly. At first, thanks to a tip that turned out to be false, we fermented it with crabapples, thinking the apple juice had properties as a color preservative. It doesn’t. Then we tried bumping the alcohol up to 20% and that worked, but not for long after opening a bottle. Over time, even that trick doesn’t help if a bottle is not stored in a cool dark place. Have you ever heard of a trick to preserve the color of prickly pear juice? (Not using chemical prservatives).


10 autumn December 14, 2015 at 8:04 pm

I have never bottled mine, so I can’t offer advice on that. I usually freeze mine.


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