Here we go round the prickly pear; such tasty fruit ,handle with care
September 3, 2018 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Ode to the Prickly Pear: Say if on your property there was something that year round produced a green bean/okra tasting vegetable, a fruit less acidic than kiwi, vials of vitamins, seeds for flour, medicine, a natural burglar fence, insect repellent, water treatment resource, materials for mortar, a brilliant magenta dye, and a hair conditioner, would you run a bulldozer over it? Now is the time that Opuntia fruit (Indian fig or tuna) is in season, so eat up!
posted by filthy light thief (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The slime is edible, and reportedly makes a good salad dressing. Adding 10 cc of SCP-447-2 to one gallon of gasoline improves fuel efficiency by 150%. Furthermore, SCP-447-2 can be refined into a useful lubricant. It renders milk a bright green color and slightly thicker, with a slight minty flavor; chemical analysis indicates that the resulting concoction is lactose-free. Under no circumstances is SCP-447 to be allowed to come into contact with dead bodies.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:59 AM on September 3, 2018 [16 favorites]

Just an FYI, if you’re out hiking and see a prickly pear that looks totally delicious and smooth and needle-free, that just means that the needles are so small that they’re invisible... and if you decide to pick that pear and stick it in your pocket, you’re going to regret it and you’re also going to be throwing a pair of shorts away. Ask me how I know.

I drove through California’s Central Valley this weekend and there are homes and businesses surrounded by thick patches of these, just mind-bogglingly loaded with pears, to the point that you can hardly see the plant any more. So beautiful.

Very cool post, thanks!
posted by Huck500 at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2018 [11 favorites]

I once had to prepare something for a Native American potluck, and the only thing I thought I could manage was a pork stew from Mexico with prickly pears in it. The hard part was peeling the spines off. I'd make that again.

The other prickly pear item I like is San Pelligrino orange/prickly pear soda from Italy.
posted by acrasis at 9:04 AM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you pick a paw-paw,
Or a prickly pear,
And you prick a raw paw,
Next time beware!
posted by BrashTech at 9:08 AM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

  • This is a prohibited invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

  • The Act requires that all sightings to be reported to Biosecurity Queensland within 24 hours.
  • By law, everyone has a general biosecurity obligation (GBO) to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risk of it spreading until they receive advice from an authorised officer.

  • posted by adept256 at 9:13 AM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

    Apparently kudzu is also edible and nutritious.
    posted by The otter lady at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Interesting - I didn't think of Prickly Pear as particularly fast-growing, which I assumed was a necessary feature of invasive species, but I guess being spiky would also ensure animals don't eat it and people don't quickly pull it up.

    I made this post because I FINALLY picked some Prickly Pear "tunas" or fruit, and its an interesting, mellow flavor, and I dig it. Also, it's free! But definitely not something to pick up and snack on casually, due to the spikes on the outside and the many seeds on the inside.

    If you find yourself in the proximity of the fruit, BRING TONGS and a tough bag or box. You could also use leather gloves, but seriously, tongs are the best. Also, don't worry too much about the beautiful magenta juices staining, because from my preliminary experiments, it washes off pretty easily.
    posted by filthy light thief at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

    Also used in beer.
    posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:41 AM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    By law, everyone has a general biosecurity obligation (GBO) to take all reasonable and practical steps to minimise the risk of it spreading until they receive advice from an authorised officer.

    Really this just adds to the SCP-ness alluded to in the first comment.

    (Prickly pear is non-invasive in the Americas, however.)
    posted by tobascodagama at 9:45 AM on September 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

    Prickly pear is non-invasive in the Americas, however.

    Prickly pear evolved to invade the Americas. The pads would stick to the side of buffalo and it could survive up into Canada.

    glochid removal tip: If you handle an opuntia and later find yourself all itchy get some scotch tape and repeatedly place it on the itchy spot and remove it. This will pull out the superfine needles that you cannot see which are causing you the irritation.

    Then never touch an opuntia again.
    posted by srboisvert at 10:01 AM on September 3, 2018 [11 favorites]

    Interesting, thanks filthy light thief. The use in mortar made me wonder if it is also an ingredient in hydraulic fracturing fluid, and it seems that it is.

    Technically it is known as Nopal Mucilage, which certainly sounds slimy. Various biopolymers are used in fracking, notably guar gum in large quantities. The ingredients of fracking fluids (excluding the unpublished secret ingredients) are mainly neutral or even edible components, mixed with a long list of toxic additives.

    I wonder if there could be a middle-ground on the banning of fracking, by, say, limiting the fracking fluids to potable and edible ingredients only.

    Also, can you cook with it? Could it be a pie or ice-cream thickener like guar gum?
    posted by StickyCarpet at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

    In Santa Clara County, I've seen old prickly pear plants around the yards of ranches on the valley floor, separating pastures and orchards from gardens (at McCarthy Ranch), and in the eastern foothills south of Niles Canyon where only the cactus remains.

    Prickly pears have apparently been cultivated along the Mission Trail since as early as 1779, before the region was even Alta California.
    posted by the Real Dan at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

    Opuntia was controlled in Australia through one of the most effective instances of biological control, using the South American cactoblastis moth, which parasitizes it and introduces bacterial infections. Unfortunately, the moth has also now begin appearing in North America and the Caribbean, and threatening commercial opuntia farms. A good bio control species is also a good invader. Ecology is super hard.
    posted by agentofselection at 10:49 AM on September 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

    New Mexican here. Out of state friends laugh when they notice the grilling tongs in my emergency car kit. This is why, friend: prickly pear seaon! So much bounty from this incredible plant!

    And a friend from Isleta Pueblo clued me into the best way to remove the spines from the tunas — drop them into a burlap sack and shake them around. Many coffee roasters have tons of free burlap bags. The fruits come out nearly spine-free.
    posted by Silvery Fish at 11:24 AM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

    Me reading this as an Indian (from India) person and West Coast USA resident:
    1. "Indian fig", they must be talking about this.
    2. Huh, this is some kind of cactus thingy.
    3. Oh, this is nopal. Why didn't they say that in the first place?
    posted by splitpeasoup at 11:27 AM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

    Apparently, my mother had a potted prickly pear as a houseplant when I was tiny, and one day I tripped and fell on it, landing butt-down into it, sparking an emergency trip to the pediatrician.

    I don't remember anything about the incident so it likely was only a minor injury. But I've used that as an excuse to always opt for prickly pear when I see it on a menu "as revenge".

    ....I've occasionally seen some growing wild here in New York, around the edges of salt marsh areas...
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on September 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

    So they mention that like okra the nopals are a bit sticky/slimy when cooked.  But can you solve that the same way as with okra by simply cooking with something acidic like tomatoes?

    Okra stewed with tomatoes, onion, and a bit of bacon is a very tasty Southern staple.  Now I'm wondering if it could be adapted to prickly pear.
    posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:50 AM on September 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

    One of the BEST ways to remove picky-pear from an area is to put camels there. Camels find prickly pear delectable!

    I love prickly pear syrup in fizzy water. aka prickly- pear Italian soda.
    posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Camels find prickly pear delectable!
    Here's a video of a camel eating prickly pear. You can see needles lodged into the camel's palate at about 2:04. Camels are metal.
    posted by elgilito at 12:12 PM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

    No mention of prickly pear margaritas yet? Yum, yum.
    posted by grimjeer at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

    Magnesium deficiencies in the modern diet is considered surprisingly common.
    But if you eat just one Tuna, it gives a third of your RDA for MG, right then and there.
    Protip: The green ones are as delicious but have lower sugar content than the magentas. But both magenta and green are way lower in sugar content than the common fruits like apples oranges and bananas.
    posted by Fupped Duck at 12:32 PM on September 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

    But the best-looking southwest fence plant is the ocotillo. Not as nutritious but gorgeous.
    posted by MovableBookLady at 1:19 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

    I grew up in a house in southern NM that had a giant prickly pear in the front yard. We did jelly with the fruit for a few years before we decided it was too much work. Ultimately it was just a place that wind-blown trash would snag and be difficult to remove. They were replaced by yuccas several years ago.
    posted by hippybear at 2:02 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    ....I've occasionally seen some growing wild here in New York, around the edges of salt marsh areas...
    Probably Eastern Prickly Pear. I planted some last year, obtained from the RI Wild Plant Society. It has grown quite a bit and when some of the nopales fell off I stuck them in the ground and they too have grown but they haven't bloomed yet. It is supposed to be edible but less sweet than the western species.
    posted by Botanizer at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    One of the BEST ways to remove picky-pear from an area is to put camels there.

    Speaking of invasive species in Australia...
    posted by shenderson at 3:31 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

    In Spain they are known as higo chumbo.
    A favourite recipe is for ice cream.
    posted by adamvasco at 4:55 PM on September 3, 2018

    I grew up in Texas, as a kid we'd peel tunas with a pocketknife and eat them while we were out knocking around. I now live on the southeast US coast. I saw some tunas on some plants on a barrier island, thought it was old home week. yeech! The "not as sweet" + salty wasn't very tasty at all.
    posted by rudd135 at 6:17 PM on September 3, 2018

    Yeah, I could tell you about the camp in Arizona I went to as a youth. And the survival class I took the where they told us you could eat Prickly Pear. And how when they dropped us in the desert one night, to, well, survive, how we gathered a bunch. And how I carried them in my pulled up sweatshirt.

    And how I had to do to the nurse cabin a day or so after to have hundreds of tiny, invisible, spines pulled out of my belly...

    And we couldn't even remember how we supposed to prepare them, so we didn't even eat them.
    posted by Windopaene at 6:59 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    I've told the story before about all the free prickly pears in San Francisco.

    Two of my best memories from my time there are related to eating wild fruit after a hard bike ride. Once blackberries in the presidio, another prickly pears in the Western Addition.

    No need for special handling, a pocket knife is enough.

    Right now in my under-the-desk nursery I am growing, among other things, green prickly pear, super sweet wild pink prickly pear, multicolored pitayas, and other more sensual cacti.

    Actually I just took a look and a bunch of the seedlings are ready for grafting.
    posted by Dr. Curare at 7:18 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

    Fantastic post, thank you filthy light thief!

    I had not heard of using phytochemicals in the prickly pear fruit as a dye, but I had heard of cochineal, an insect that lives on prickly pear cacti and produces carminic acid. This natural dye is used on fabrics ... and also as a food coloring agent. (When you hear people complain, "Starbucks puts BUGS in their DRINKS!" this is what they're talking about.) Cochineal was one of the first exports from the Americas, and I've heard that it was at one point traded on the London Stock Exchange.

    I had not heard of the seeds being used for flour, but that makes sense. The beans on mesquite trees can also be ground into a gluten-free flour.

    The next time you're on a highly trafficked trail in a national park in the Southwest USA, look for prickly pear at switchbacks. They're very easy to propagate — just stick a pad in the dirt — which means that they're cheap and easy barriers to off-trail travel. Trail crews will sometimes strategically place them to deter switchback cutting. (Of course, they'll often times grow naturally along the trail as well, so, well, you know.)

    In prehistoric times, prickly pear fruit was consumed by Shasta ground sloths.

    Hooray prickly pears!
    posted by compartment at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Cochineal is also known as "mealy bug" to most cacti and succulent growers even though it is actually a form of scale insect instead and it is the bane of many a collection. You know you have it when you see white woolly looking clumps on your plants.

    I just treated my haworthia/gasteria collection this past month with a liquid systemic to curb these kinds of pest. Unfortunately, the packaging did not mention that the drench would make my plants reek like rotting cabbage for a month. Awkward when you grow indoors in a tiny apartment! Back to the more awkward pellet form of pesticide for me.
    posted by srboisvert at 5:05 AM on September 4, 2018

    One of the BEST ways to remove picky-pear from an area is to put camels there.

    Cows also eat prickly-pear but the spines cause their tongues and lips to swell up so you have to go around with a torch burning the thorns off. Actually a lot of prickly-pear is a sure sign of over-grazing your livestock. They are invasive but they are out-competed by even pasture grass, so as long as livestock doesn't eat the land down to nothing but dirt the prickly-pear will be manageable and dare I say attractive.

    Unfortunately I have fallen into so much of that stuff as a kid it's really hard to appreciate as a an adult so I have none in my garden.
    posted by The_Vegetables at 7:11 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

    Prickly pear spines are one thing. Glochids are another animal completely.

    Then never touch an opuntia again.

    This, totally.
    posted by strelitzia at 9:34 AM on September 4, 2018

    In southern CO they were small but delicious, if a little odd.

    My local amaro-maker is currently doing a lovely prickly pear liqueur called Fico D'India.
    posted by aspersioncast at 3:41 PM on September 4, 2018

    Interesting note, a tiny portion of people have a bad reaction to the uncooked prickly pear fruit or the uncooked juice of the fruit. I am one such person. It is my personal, unsubstantiated-by-science, belief that the reaction is because prickly pear lowers blood pressure, and mine is already sort of freakishly low. So beware people with low blood pressure, eat this cactus with caution. I love prickly pear though. The cooked juice is fine for me, no reaction at all to the cooked juice. Oh, and the actual best way to harvest the prickly pear fruit juice is to freeze the fruit in a ziplock bag, spines and all, then thaw the fruit, which basically juices it for you. Then just strain the juice through cheese cloth and, POOF! Your juice is ready to be cooked
    posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:13 PM on September 4, 2018

    The_Vegetables, I keep imagining the farmer going from cow to cow with a torch.
    posted by moonmilk at 9:40 PM on September 4, 2018

    Here in Virginia, I was surprised when the property I bought had a patch of prickly pear growing in a thicket on a pile of rocks. I keep meaning to go clear the overhead trees, but it seems to be doing pretty well as-is. Smallish red fruits, somewhat sweet and very seedy, but tasty.
    posted by Blackanvil at 4:07 PM on September 5, 2018

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