Harvesting Prickly Pear Cactus

Updated: May 14

Prickly pears are the vibrant pink fruit on cactus that are everywhere in the Texas hill country in the fall. Harvesting prickly pears and processing them for juice sounds daunting, but it is actually pretty easy!

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Prickly pears have a subtle flavor and very fresh smell -- they smell like watermelon to me. But most notably, they are such a beautiful color! Harvesting and processing these cactus fruits is a simple 5 step process. What you will need:

  • Gloves

  • Bag or Basket

  • Colander

  • Knife

  • Spoon

  • Cutting Board

  • Blender or Food Processor

  • Cheesecloth

  • Bowl

STEP 1: HARVEST

First thing's first, pick your prickly pears! We have plenty of cactus on our property so we usually put on boots and gloves and walk around the pasture. But if you don't have any, just drive down the highway and keep an eye out for the bright pink bulbs. Remember to bring gloves and a bag or basket that you don't mind getting little prickles in. The prickly pears themselves don't have the large spines like the paddle of the cactus, but they still have small little prickles that will stick in your fingers.


You are looking for prickly pears that have a deep magenta color. The darker they are the more ripe and flavorful they will be. If you harvest a couple that still have some green, that is perfectly fine and edible too.


STEP 2: RINSE

Next you need to rinse the prickly pears to remove all the small prickles. They come off pretty easily. I place them in a colander and swirl them around under a steady stream of water. Rolling them around in the colander is key to get every last prickle.


STEP 3: SEED & PEEL (optional)

Now it is time to cut, seed and peel. Cut the top and bottom off each prickly pear. Then cut them in half and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. The seeds are edible so don't stress too much about getting them all out. You could leave all of them in and strain them out during step 5 if you would like. Peeling the prickly pears is also an optional step, but if you would like to peel them, I found the best way is to use a spoon to scrape the flesh of the fruit away from the peel (like scooping out an avocado).

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STEP 4: BLEND

Once you have seeded and peeled your prickly pears (or not because that step is totally optional :)), put all of them in a blender or food processor. Blend the fruit until it is liquified.


STEP 5: STRAIN

And finally, strain the blended mixture with a cheesecloth into a bowl. I drape the cheesecloth over the bowl and pour in the mixture. Then squeeze and twist the cheesecloth until you have squeezed out all the juice you can. Compost or discard what remains in the cheesecloth. Your bowl should be full of a vibrant pink liquid that has a slightly syrupy consistency.


Congratulations -- you have made prickly pear juice! My favorite way to use it? Prickly Pear Margaritas! Get the recipe here.