The other day my wife came home with some prickly pears that she picked at the home of one of our children. She is familiar with them and is planning to make jam out of these.
Now prickly pears are found in many parts of the United States, Mexico and even a few areas of southern Canada. They grow throughout the Western United States, in the arid regions in the Northwest and in the mid and lower elevations of the Rocky Mountains. Prickly pears are also found in the dry sand hills and sand dunes of the East Coast from Florida to south of Boston. Further, north, prickly pear can be found in isolated areas from the Great Lakes to southern Ontario,
Native Americans in many areas considered prickly pear a major food source. They relied on prickly pear for food, medicine, and as a source of needles, containers, and even water. The seeds, pads and fruit can all be eaten. The pads can be eaten year around, but the young ones are best. Boiled or roasted the pads make a good green vegetable. Prickly pear fruit is eaten whole (boiled or grilled). It is also made into juice and jams. The pads could also be used as containers and even canteens. An evil tasting, sticky juice can be squeezed from the pads, if you are short of water.
Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded pads that are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hair like prickles called glochids. Cactus fruit grows on the edges of the flat pads of the cactus, and are pear-shaped. They can range in color from green (less sweet) to red (very sweet). The fruit of prickly pears, commonly called cactus fruit, has to be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption.
Native Americans would roll the fruit around in a suitable medium like sand to remove these small spines. Alternatively, rotating the fruit in the flame of a campfire or torch has been used to remove them.
Don’t be fooled, the ones purchased in markets have been cleaned of the tiny hair-like thorns, the ones fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to handle them with heavy leather work gloves and scrub them hard to ensure all the painful little barbs are off.
According to WEBMD http://bit.ly/17Zn466 prickly pear cactus has been used for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, alcohol hangover, colitis, diarrhea, and benign prostatic hypertrophy. Prickly pear cactus contains fiber and pectin, which can lower blood glucose by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestine. Some researchers think that it might also decrease cholesterol levels, and kill viruses in the body.
My wife will post some recipes for prickly pear jam in the future.