Prickly Pear Cactus

This staple of the desert is a versatile gift of nature, but handle with care.

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Ripe Prickly Pear Fruits

The fruit that follows the extraordinary flowers are called "tunas." These are green, turning soft in orange, pink or red when ripe and sweet. The skin is peeled away to reveal flesh that is 15 percent sugar, with a texture like melon peppered with BB sized seeds. Fresh tunas taste similar to kiwi fruit and can be made into jams and jellies just like tree fruit.

The challenge to cooks and gardeners is working around the thorns. Most species bear long, wickedly sharp thorns protruding in clusters from evenly spaced aeroles. Surrounding the thorns are "glochids," fine hair-like fuzzy spines that cloak the surface of the aerole. These microscopic glochids are brutally painful and almost impossible to remove from the skin.

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