Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prickly Pears

Opuntia engelmannii - Our most common prickly pear cactus species here in Central Texas

Seen any of the new growth on our prickly pears lately? 'Tis the season for many wild edibles, but these young, tender pads are one of the most substantial, nutritious and prolific vegetables available right now. Here's one way to harvest and process them:

1. Put on some very thick, sturdy gloves.
2. While holding one pad with your gloved hand, cut each new pad (new ones have tiny green leaves coming out of the areoles, along with thorns) off just above where it has sprouted off an older pad.
3. While still holding it, trim off the outer edge all the way around to eliminate the many tiny thorns that congregate along the margins of the pad.
4. While still holding the pad, take a knife and scrape off the leaves and thorns from the surface of the pad.
5. Throw the partially cleaned pad in your harvest bucket or bag and proceed to the next pad.
6. Once you've collected all that you need, return to your kitchen and wash the pads under a steady stream of water. At this point, you might want to replace your thorny outdoor gloves with some equally sturdy indoor gloves because the pads will still have some tiny thorns attached. Beware, they hurt!
7. Once you've cleaned off the pads with water (it's OK if you didn't remove every single tiny thorn) slice them and cook them up or freeze them for later use.

These pads were harvested out on our farm. After slicing them, I slid them into a freezer bag and stuck them in the freezer to use for tacos later.

* I will publish more detailed instructions and recipes soon!

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