In my younger years, my grandmother canned cactus pads and made jelly from the fruit of the cactus. The pads are flat and look like a large leave. Indian Fig is the most commonly used prickly pear species for culinary use. There are many species of prickly pears, but all can be used for food. Making jelly from the ripe fruit was time consuming but it was really good.
When she canned the cactus it was not so easy to prepare. You have to remove the nodes that hold the needles. She would pick them in the morning and then she started to clean the pads (they look like a beaver tail, flat and wide). The needles on the pads where sharp, she used a pair of pliers to pull them out. Then she peeled the outer shell and cooked them.
She would add the cactus, (which is a vegetable) to scrambled eggs, omelets and it can be substituted for any green vegetable. She often mixed them with diced tomatoes, hot peppers and corn. Eating cactus is a required taste, but if you are hungry, it will taste pretty good. In an emergency I’m sure there will be plenty growing, because nobody will know what to do with them. The jelly of course is a different matter, it tastes good on anything. LOL
Cactus Pads contain large amounts of Vitamin A and C, and also a fair amount of B vitamins and iron. They are also high in calcium, fiber and can reduce blood glucose levels. If you do not like the slippery taste of Okra, prickly pear or Nopales may not be for you. If you are willing to sample this interesting vegetable which is often served in Mexico, choose medium sized, firm pads. Avoid purchasing limp dry , or soggy pads. Wrapped in plastic they should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Prickly pear pads can be eaten raw but are preferred cooked by most people. They can be steamed over boiling water for a few minutes and then combined with other foods. Favorites are prickly pears with eggs, added to soups or chili, mixed into tortilla fillings, or even stuffed with cheese and deep fried. Experiment with them and learn to enjoy their unusual texture and taste. The young pads are harvested in the early spring. They shouldn’t be more than 2-4 inch long as they become fibrous when older.
If you are growing these in your yard, wear gloves when picking and tongs to handle. Scrape the spines off with a sharp knife. Cut into strips or cubes then run under water. They are ready to eat raw, sautéed, grilled, or boiled.
Here is a link to a previous article we wrote on prickly pears Prickly Pears are a Good Hard Times Food
Here is a recipe for prickly pear pads.
- Scrambled Eggs
- 1 or 2 cactus pads
- 8 eggs
- 1/4 pound cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Scrub cactus pads and remove spines. Use a potato peeler to cut around spiny nodules and remove. Slice cactus pads into bite-size pieces. Sauté cactus pads in a small amount of butter for 5 minutes. Remove. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl and add shredded cheese and cooked cactus pads. Pour in heated skillet and scramble. Serve warm.
I hope that you will try it and see what you think; it may come in useful one day.