How to Juice Prickly Pear Fruit

Joseph working the thrift-store mill

I always know it’s prickly pear fruit season when questions start coming in on a recipe I did for a prickly pear fruit jelly. Unfortunately, the mucilaginous and seedy texture of the fruit makes it difficult to work with. The only tested recipe I could find, for a prickly pear marmalade in the Ball Blue Book, says nothing about how to seed or juice the fruit.

With the assistance of two fellow Master Food Preservers, Pure Vegan author Joseph Shuldiner and restaurateur Stephen Rudicel, we tested two ways to juice prickly pear fruit: an electric juicer and two hand cranked food mills.The food mills worked the best.

We simply burned the spines off the fruit over a stove burner and quartered the fruit (no peeling necessary). Then we tossed them in the food mill, turned the handle and got lots of delicious juice. The electric juicer ground up the seeds which gave an off-flavor to the juice. The electric food mill was tough to clean. Pictured above is one of the food mills we tried, a simple model from a thrift store. We also used a Roma Food Mill, which worked even better but, of course, costs more money.

Joseph and Stephen, intent on The Cause

We intended to make jelly with our juice but Stephen suggested prickly pear juice cocktails. The rest of the afternoon was somewhat of a blur, but thankfully I was sober enough to write down the recipe. I’ll share that tomorrow.

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  1. Check out more recipes and hints at I recently attended a demonstration at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior AZ. There are other simple ways to get rid of most of the fine stickers before you ever bring them in the house. My favorite recipes were a prickly pear fruit salsa and a fresh salad made with the cactus pads.

  2. When making syrup, I’ve just washed the fruits (while wearing gloves so the hairs aren’t a big deal), chopped them up, put them in a pot with sugar, and heated the mixture, mashing it a bit here and there. After cooking it for a while, you can strain the mixture through cheesecloth. Cooking softens the urticating hairs so you don’t have to char them, too (so long as you wear gloves while chopping). The syrup can be frozen or canned, although you’d probably have to add some lime juice to get the proper pH for canning.

    Prickly pear mead is AMAZINGLY GOOD, if you can handle waiting for a couple of years while it ferments and ages. It’s also so good in margaritas, and makes for a nice frosting for lime cupcakes (because it plays so well with lime).

    There’s an old cookbook you might find interesting, called _Fruits of the Desert_, by Sandal English, that contains a lot of recipes for Sonoran desert foods. It was compiled from recipes contributed to a newspaper – the Arizona Daily Star. A lot of the recipes are dated, but it’s great for ideas, and you probably have access to a lot of the same foods.

  3. Oh, also, as a jelly, it’s not that great. The flavor is so subtle that it’s kind of pointless. The marmalade from the Ball book is probably good because of the whole prickly pear + lime combination, which will be more lime than prickly pear.

    • I agree about the jelly. The sugar tends to cover up the flavor. As a juice it’s pretty good. And we’re planning on trying to dry some to make a fruit leather. I might also try the marmalade recipe just to see how it turns out.

  4. Your thrift store model is the classic Foley food mill. I just used mine to puree a bunch of tomatoes that I’d lightly steamed. I’m longing for a Roma food mill or Squeezo, but the Foley works fine and is easy to clean,

  5. We had prickly pears at our house growing up. I wanted to try and pick and eat the fruit when I got to be a teenager, but my parents wouldn’t let me. They didn’t consider it food. Boo.

    Also there was one cactus that I was pretty sure was a peyote but my dad ran over it with a lawnmower just when it looked like it was starting to bud.

  6. Pingback: Low Sugar Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe | Root Simple

  7. Another low budget way that we have always used (no special equipment or mills required) is to burn or wash off the glochids (technically optional but it avoids accidental poking) , blend the fruit into a rough mash using a blender or food processor, boil the mash in a pot for 5 min, and strain the boiled juice through a clean shirt. The boiling helps extract extra juice from the pulp and break down the glochids (but not the spines). The T-Shirt has smaller pores than cheese cloth or straining cloth and allows for a super fine, pulp free juice. You can add water to the leftover pulp, boil again and get a second batch of juice out of it if your industrious :). Its pretty easy, if a touch messy 😛

  8. I pick my pears with tongs and burn the stickers off over the stove then I put them into a large bucket of water. I put them, whole, into my blender. I can usually put in 3 of them (1 at a time) then I strain them to get the seeds out. I prefer the fiber in my juice but if you want it clear you can then strain it through cheesecloth. It’s time consuming but simple. I keep a pair of magnifying glasses and tweezers with me at all times for the stickers.

  9. I should have mentioned that I saw directions to make an apple press on the Mother Earth website. I’m considering trying that next year. Press then strain. Sounds much simpler!

  10. The easy way to juice the tunas is to hard freeze them in a plastic bag. Thaw in a strainer over a bowl, and they will automatically form clear juice. You don’t ever have to touch the fruit, or strain the juice, totally mess free. The color is intact, with no heat. Squeeze if you must, or if you have a lot of fruits throw away the pulp remaining and start over with new fruits. Plan on a day to freeze and a day to thaw. Works perfectly on ripe fruit. I do jab them with a sharp knife to speed up the juicing, but I doubt that it is necessary.

  11. I use my centrifugal juicer, Jack Lalanne style. No need to de-thorn as the seeds and thorns end up in the pulp catcher.

  12. When I first made the juice about 7 years ago, I was worried about staining my counter tops, clothing, cutting boards, etc. The electric magenta color washes off everything with just water nor does it stay in fabric. I was like…cool.

  13. I have found the easiest way to make prickly pear juice. Just place all the pears in a double large zip lock bag and Freeze them. Then when you are ready to cook them, pour them into a large pot, thaw a little, heat on medium for about an hour, mashing with potato masher periodically . Cool. Then strain over 2 layers of cheesecloth. No burning, cutting, etc. Works very well. My jelly is very berry flavored.

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