Prickly Pear Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Cactus fruit adds vibrant color and syrupy succulence to a classic Thanksgiving dish.

Sweet prickly pears complement tart cranberries in a new spin on a traditional holiday sauce.

Sweet prickly pears complement tart cranberries in a new spin on a traditional holiday sauce.

Sweet prickly pears complement tart cranberries in a new spin on a traditional holiday sauce.

When one thinks of cactus, it is often pictured in inhospitable desert venues. Thorny and unfriendly, it seems to be a plant best left alone. Although many species are native to those dry climates, not all cacti fit the stereotype.

Opuntia can be found in a wide range of climates from California to Florida. Commonly called the prickly pear cactus, its wide, flat paddles (actually stems) were common to many Native American diets. Called “nopalitos,” the nutritious vegetable has a taste similar to okra and can be cooked or dried for consumption. The culinary prize of these hardy plants, though, is the prickly pear.

The sweet berries are two to five inches long (depending on the species) and covered with small defensive spines that make it difficult to handle them. But inside the thorny skin lies a sweet treasure. Vibrant magenta in color and loaded with nutritional value, the flesh of the prickly pear has a taste reminiscent of watermelon or strawberries with a hint of bubblegum. The unexpected fruit is a treat in desserts, in jams or jellies, syrups or sorbets.

Here in the East, the Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia vulgaris) can be found as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Florida. Colorful flowers appear in summer months and the prized fruit will be ready to harvest between September and December.

Given the season, it seems only fitting that prickly pears find their way onto the Thanksgiving table.  The syrupy flavor and stunning color of prickly pears pair beautifully with tart cranberries in a holiday classic. Sweet, tart and colorful, prickly pear cranberry sauce puts an unconventional spin on an old favorite.

Don’t count on leftovers.

Prickly Pear Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 pound prickly pears
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 (12 ounce) bag cranberries
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Wash prickly pears and scrub with a brush to remove fine spines.

Cut the ends from the fruit, score one side and peel skin from flesh.

Puree prickly pears in blender or food processor.

Strain puree through a fine sieve and discard seeds.

Combine prickly pear juice and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add cranberries, orange zest and cinnamon stick to pot and return to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer 6-8 minutes, until cranberries begin to split.

Remove from heat to cool completely. Refrigerate before serving.

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