Prickly Pear Fruit Chips

Prickly pear fruit chip–some specimens are purple, our produces orange fruit

It’s prickly pear fruit season. I know this both by the view out our front window and from the comments trickling in on an old post on how to make prickly pear fruit jelly. Thanks to a tip from Oliva Chumacero at the Farmlab, I now have another way of dealing with an over-abundance of this spiny fruit: slice it and dry it to make prickly pear fruit chips.

  1. First remove the nasty spines (technically glochids, which are barbed and much more painful than the spines on the pads). I disarm the glochids by burning them off over a burner on the stove.
  2. Cut the fruit into thin slices and hack off the skins.
  3. Place in a dehydrator. We have a solar dehydrator, but a commercial one will also work, of course. If you live in a dry desert climate you can dry fruit in the sun under screens, but here in Los Angeles the air has too much moisture in it. Fruit would mold before it would be dry enough to store. I’m not a fan of oven drying either since there’s not enough air flow and you run the risk of cooking rather than dehydrating. A dehydrator, either electric or solar, is a great investment if you’ve got food to put up.
  4. When the prickly pear fruit has a leather-like consistency, enjoy. You swallow the hard seeds, making prickly pear fruit somewhat an acquired taste for some.
  5. Chumacero also mentioned that the young pads, “nopalitos” in Spanish, can also be dried for later use.

A note to the permaculturalists out there. It’s worth emphasizing that the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, in my personal experience, is the single most productive plant in our small lot. It’s also the easiest to propagate, and thrives on neglect. It provides a tremendous amount of food for no work and no supplemental irrigation. We’d all do well with more of it around. In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying a winter of Opuntia chips.

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  1. They are native to the Midwest, but definitely underused as food. We like to smoke them in alder chips by placing them right on the fire, which gets rid of the spines, cooks it, and gives the Opuntia a great flavor.

    We usually make esalada de nopales. It is kind of like a smokey overcooked green bean with a splash of vinegar. It is a great light meal on hot summer days.

  2. Somebody beat me to our local wild patch – no fruits left that I can see. I’m very bummed, I had been looking forward to making jelly and now I’m empty-handed. Might have to go on a foraging expedition.

  3. Does anyone know a good trick for removing the glochids (the tiny pricklers on the fruit) from your skin? Mr. Homegrown is sometimes careless with his Dangerous Fruit Handling and leaves stealth glochids on the kitchen counter. I currently have one embedded in my lower lip! Arggh!

    (Be careful if you try this at home, kids!)

  4. I successfully used nail clippers to remove some glochids from my hands earlier today, although tweezers could work well too. It’s easier to do if you silhouette the offending glochid against a bright light so you can find it, though you’ll probably need help with the one on your lip (which I’m hoping you’ve removed by now!).

  5. Thanks anonymous! I’ve never had good luck with tweezers. Maybe our tweezers just suck. Next time I’ll try clippers. I’ve heard that some people use rubber cement, but I keep forgetting to pick up a bottle.

    For those of you new to the joys of prickly pear fruit, the good thing (?) about glochids is that if you can’t get them out, you can wait them out. They seem to resolve themselves (fall out? stop hurting?) in less than 24 hours.

  6. I saw oodles of ripe prickly pear in a neighbor’s yard and, being originally from the Southwest, thought of making prickly pear jam–so I googled the topic and found your blog.

    I’ve browsed both your posts on the fruit, and now I’m ready to knock on my neighbor’s door and ask if I may collect a bag of their prickly pear.

    Glad to find your blog. Check out mine, if you have a chance. We have some things in common.

  7. I’m in Arizona and brought home some pads from a wild plant before I knew it was illegal. From the original, every year I plant more. The little antelope squirrels that look like chipmonks love them but I get some too. I simply take some fruit off the plant with tongs. Then I stick a fork in it and slice in half. I put a fork in one half and scoop the center out. That’s the way I eat them, less fuss and mess, no stickers in my fingers.
    Duct tape is good for getting stickers out.
    I also have the tall Indian Fig Prickly pear and they are delicious. I agree, prickly pear is a great food source for little care, pads are edible too, burn the stickers off in open flame and then cook.

  8. My grandparents raised their family through the Depression and the Dust bowl and Granddad always told me that there was no reason for families to go without food in West Texas. They learned to use prickly pears, tumble weeds (Russian Thistle) Mesquite beans and even Careless Weeds (Amaranthus Palmeri) to help feed the family.
    My solution for removing the ‘stickers’ is plain old Elmers Glue. (another Grand Dad trick) Just smear it over the hands, let it dry and peal it off. Works well for fiberglass insulation as well.
    Thank you for the post on the dried prickly pear fruits. For the last few years I just tossed the leavings into the compost bin after extracting the juices.

  9. You are so right about prickly pears! About four years ago we planted three or four “pads” we clipped from a neighbor’s yard. From those humble beginnings, we now have a huge (about 6 foot wide, 5 foot tall) prickly pear! In fact, we had to relocate another poor cactus planted beside it that was being choked out. It requires no maintenance and produces tons of fruit.

    Thanks for the great tips!
    KG–Southern New Mexico

  10. I help with a second harvest produce truck that passes out produce at the last of their ‘best by’ date. I live in Indiana and last week we had a skid of prickly pears in boxes to give out. I have a sister who lives in Apache Junction, Arizona and she turned me on to the prickly pear jelly. I was surprised to see the pears on the truck and I was able to get a box for myself when the give-away was finished. Going to make jelly from mine.

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