This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Pads and Fruits

Fruits Cut Open
  I have a huge Prickly Pear Cactus growing in my front yard. This time of year, the fruits, also known as Tunas, become dark red indicating they are ripe and ready to pick. It takes all summer to get to this point as the beautiful flowers come out in the spring, get fertilized and the fruits start to grow. All summer, the fruits are green, and growing larger as the days pass. When they reach their largest in the late Summer and early Fall, they slowly start to get some color and become dark red by the time of the usual first frost (around Oct. 15). We didn't get our real first frost till today,Oct. 20, this year, and most of the fruits are ready for picking.
 Of course the hardest part of eating Cactus fruits is getting past the spines.Even though the fruits look smooth with no large spines, they are covered with reddish brown bristles called Glochids. These tiny spines are even worse than the big ones. There are thousands of them on each fruit and once they get in your skin they are very hard to remove and will irritate your skin something fierce. I have tried collecting the fruits with a towel, canvas gloves and other methods but I always managed to get the little buggers in my hand. Not to mention going to use the gloves at a later date proved to be painful as the spines work their way into the glove. The best way is to use a pair of tongs. Once the fruits are collected the Glochids need to be removed. I find rubbing them with a towel while running them under running water works well. The spines get caught in the towel and the ones that just got loose get washed away in the water.
 I have read that most people remove the skin before eating the fruits, I don't, I just cut the brown flower end off and the pointy bottom end and munch away. I like to slice them and eat them as a snack as shown in the photo. One other word of caution, the seeds are very hard. Many people remove the seeds before eating, again, I don't. If you remove the skin and the seeds there won't be much left as the fruits of most of the Prickly Pear Cactus on the east coast are not huge. The ones on my plant are only about 2in. and smaller.You just need to be careful you don't break a tooth!
  The fruits can be used in many other ways, you can make a drink from them, use them in sherbet or ice cream make a hot tea and they can even be used to make a dye. There are many good sites on the web that have recipes for Tunas. The plant itself is also edible and medicinal. In the spring, when the new pads are still small, light green and before they get their large spines, I pick them, peel them and cook them in several different ways and they are delicious!

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