We have a running gag about prickly pear saying “That sh** grows everywhere!” And it doesn’t matter whether it’s on the fortress wall at Goliad, 40′ up a tree, or in the dividing wall between north and southbound 35E in downtown Dallas, you’ll find it growing somewhere. (No, I’m not pulling over in the middle of 35E in downtown mess to get a picture of prickly pear, but I swear, it is there!)
My family ate it by the bushel. Raw or cooked it’s absolutely delicious. Fresh or pickled. And I’m not even getting into the tunas or pears or whatever you want to call the fruit. Prickly pear wine is fantastic, and it’s only behind beauty berry as the #2 jelly in Texas, and even that is under heavy contention.
I will be coming back and adding pictures of the jelly and how to prepare the pads. There’s countless youtube videos (mostly in spanish) detailing how you cut around the edge of the pad, then cut off all the little spines (glochids) and then you prepare it however you’re going to eat it. You can cut it into thin strips and just rinse and then toss with pico and lime and it’s a fresh salad. You can boil it for 12 minutes, add a pinch of baking soda at the very last minute, drain, and then scramble with eggs or with pico and bacon, or you can wrap it in bacon and grill. Or you can fill with cheese, dip it in batter, and then fry like rellenos. The possibilities are endless.
But that’s not just why we love it. It is specifically good for diabetics, proven to assist in lowering blood sugar, helping to control cholesterol and weight and high blood pressure, all the way down to using a pad and the gooey slime that comes out for burn treatment like we do aloe vera. It has been a major player in saving lives and has real medical use that has been proven over and over again.
Another thing that I need to get a picture of, is on some wild stands, you will see this cottony fluff on some of the pads. But if you pinch it, there’s the cochineal bug inside that pops the most gorgeous shade of wine red. This is where carmine dye comes from. This history is truly fascinating.
All of this from our humble little cactus. Common as dirt, cussed as invasive and a pest.