Another way to deal with prickly pear stickers

One of those “farm uses” could be burning off prickly pear spines . . Image via BoingBoing

I’m drowning in prickly pear fruit which means a lot of nasty thorns in the kitchen and an angry Mrs. Homegrown. Previously I burned them off over our stove, but inevitably a few stickers would find their way to the kitchen sponge. Now I’ve got a new technique for removing stickers thanks to Norman of Silver City New Mexico who writes,

“Just a note to tell you how I harvest the pears.  We live in the arid SW and have a lot of native cacti.  The pears were very good this year because of the extra wet summer.  In dry times we burn the stickers off the prickly pear so the cows will eat the leaves.  It saves the cattle in some years.  I take a propane torch and burn the stickers of the pears before I pick them.  They turn very shinny like you had waxed them.  Then just pick them with your bare hands.  Sure saves a lot of time not having to roll them on a grill.”  

I tried this today with the propane torch I use for sweating pipe. Works great. Norman also suggested making some “Knox Blox” with the juice, something I intend to try. Thanks Norman for saving our marriage.

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  1. Not to be a negative Nelly, but that must skew the calories expended:calories ingested ratio. I wonder if there’s not an alternative which doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. Could the method be adapted for a wood fire? It’s academic for me, since prickly pears don’t grow in my region, which does make me a bit jealous by the way.

  2. I’ve heard of burning the spines and glochids off the green pads, and that makes sense. Does burning them off the fruit change the flavor? Or do you still peel the fruit?

    I have been dreaming of a process that involves a blender and a some sort of filtration to get the juice without having to worry much about the prickles. The problem is that even a tiny spike fragment could cause problems.

    Last fall, I saved and planted a mess of seeds from prickly pear fruit bought in a supermarket; I am planning on having loads of delicious fruit in 3 or 4 years.

  3. Jonathan,

    It’s just a quick pass over a fire to remove the glochids. No change in flavor. And I’m too lazy to peel the fruit. When I eat them fresh I just cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. And Kate, a wood fire would work too.

  4. I put them in the freezer for 24 hours, then put them in a colander on top of a few layers of paper towels to thaw. The freezing causes the cells to burst so when they defrost the juice comes right out. You may have to stab them with a fork a few times) The paper towels act as a filter for the glochids. Sometimes I press them with a big spoon to get more juice out, being careful not to tear my filter.

    I’m going to try your torch way for when I want the whole fruit!

  5. I had a pear cactus die this summer. I saw these long skinny worm-like things oozing out of holes in the paddles. I sprayed it with soapy water, neem oil, garlic, lavendar, all to no avail. It shrivled up white and stunk. I left it where it was though (because it was low priority) and now I have a tender green shoot coming from the base. Should I see what happens or rip it out quick to prevent another infestation and spreading whatever it was? I had only planted it this spring from a paddle of one found on the side of the road. The other paddle is planted in a different place and doing fine.

    • You don’t say where you live, but if you are in the areas where Cactoblastis moth is endemic, you will never be assured of a prickly pear surviving for long, this moth has made it into Florida, the worm are very distinctive in coloration being banded in yellow stripes. It is now endemic to the Caribbean and is from south America.

  6. Homesteading Mommy:

    Sorry, we can’t help you with that question. We’ve never seen that disease. You’d have to ID the bug to determine its lifecycle, then you’d know whether to pull or leave it. My uneducated guess is that you could leave it and see what happens. Prickly pear is a tough SOB.

  7. After thinking I had been diligent with glochid clean-up but getting stuck numerous times, I think I may try the blowtorch method, too. My hands (and my husband) will thank me!

  8. My first time working with Prickly pear….. what seems to be working for me is to hold the fruit with a pair of kitchen tongs, then burn off the glochids over a candle. I do the end first, then the cut end, then I can hold the fruit with my fingers and thumb, and roll it making sure each glochid cluster gets slightly burned. Then cut off the ends, slide the skin lengthwise, and peel. I’ve just done about 30 fruits, and only one “injury”.

  9. I pick the cactus pears with tongs and put them in a bucket. When I get home I fill the bucket with water and swirl the pears around in the water with a long handled spoon. After that I dump them in the sink and let them drain. Then rinse them off. This takes most of the prickles off and if not I use a vegetable brush. After using it i keep it in a plastic sandwich bag so it only gets used for this purpose. There are probably some prickles left in the brush and it is almost impossible to get them all out.

  10. Way back when I was just a lad, 40 years ago, My neighbor was a very old and almost completely blind Mexican. Good ol’ Sal Franco! In his younger days he lived wild and free, riding his horse in the deserts of Mexico. He actually briefly met Pancho Villa. He lived off the land, selling rattle snakes to earn some money, and ate what the desert provided. To eat the prickly pears he would gather a fist full of weeds to make a brush. Green weeds were the best since they held onto the tiny spines the best, but dried weeds worked OK but they allow the fine needles to blow in the wind. With the wind at your back dust the prickly pears with the weeds and knock off the needles. In bright sunlight you will see the needles glittering in the air as the wind carries them away, strong wind is preferred otherwise hold your breath so you don’t inhale the fine needles if the wind gently stirs around you. Once the needles are gone you can pluck the tunas off the cactus or use a pocket knife and slice the tunas open while they are still attached to the cactus and scoop out the inner fruit with your finger tips. I usually take them inside the house and enjoy them by slicing them in half and holding one end with a fork and with a spoon scoop out the flesh. But on a hot day working in the yard I’ll have a snack and using my pocket knife slice open the skin and access the juicy center while it is still attached to the cactus. I have 6 varieties now including the two which Sal originally gave to my dad. I can only wonder where Sal may have originally obtained those!

  11. Pingback: Prickly Wisdom | Root Simple

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