Spotlight: Prickly Pear Tunas!
Here in Central Texas, August tends to be a month of few-fruits. Figs are certainly ready to be plucked from backyard branches, but there is another kind of fruit that is often overlooked: tunas! Across the city, thick patches of prickly pear, or nopal, cactus adorn landscapes, pepper hiking trails, and line roadways. This time of year the yellow cactus blossoms give way to magenta gems that crown each prickly pear pad. With a flavor that is both sweet and tart, these super fruits offer an incredible antioxidant boost for our bodies, while also delivering high levels of vitamin C, magnesium, fiber, phytonutrients, and flavonoids. In addition to all this, they also hold anti-inflammatory properties. The nopal cactus tunas can be eaten raw, or processed in your kitchen to make jellies, syrups, glazes, infused alcohols, and juices. The best part is, they are free!
Admittedly, those thorns can be a little intimidating when it comes to harvesting these tunas. Grab your salad tongs, and some gloves as we give you a step-by-step guide on how to handle these cactus treats.
Actually getting the fruit is arguably the hardest part of the prickly pear tuna process. After a few years of practice, we recommend arming yourself with long sleeves, jeans, close-toed shoes, gloves, and a pair of salad tongs! Gingerly make your way into the prickly pear patch and clasp the tongs around each desired fruit. A twisting motion should release the tuna from the pad, especially if they are at peak ripeness. For an easier harvest, look along the ground for those fruits that have already fallen from the pads. Collect roughly 3-5lbs of the tunas.
Now that you have harvested your tunas, it is time to de-spine them so that they are actually workable! Using lukewarm water and a bristled scrub brush, dump your batch into the kitchen sink and prepare to polish. These hair-like spines love to sneak into clothing crevices and haunt you for weeks, so it is best to keep your gloves and salad tongs nearby and avoid handling the tunas until they have been stripped. Some folks have luck burning the spines off over an open flame, but scrubbing each fruit clean is a little less tedious. Put some muscle behind it! You will thank yourself later.
If you are interested in infusing alcohols, anything 40proof or over, like vodka and tequila, work well. Take 1lb of tunas, slice off the ends and then cut them into quarters. Using a glass container, submerge the fruit in your choice alcohol and let it sit for at least 10 days or more, pending on your desired strength. Strain and enjoy!
For other treats, cut the tunas into quarter chunks and submerge in water- then boil for 10-15 minutes. After draining the magenta beauties, mash them into a fine pulp using a potato masher or a food processor. Using a cheesecloth, separate the juice from the pulp. This will take time, so fasten your cloth around a bowl with a rubber band and let sit overnight. Try to get as much juice out of the pulp as possible.
After you have extracted the juice from the prickly pear pulp, you have so many options! Add ¼ cup citrus juice to the fuchsia liquid to help preserve it. Raw sugar can be added and reduced down for syrups and glazes, or pectin and sugar can be added for jellies. The raw juice itself can also be added to smoothies for a nutrient blast.
Experiment and have fun with this unique ingredient! Ultimately, you have 10 days to work with the juice when it is refrigerated.
We hope that this inspires you to play with the bounty that nature freely offers! Central Texas is full of exceptional –and delicious- edible opportunities. It certainly is something to be proud of! Email us and share some of your prickly pear tuna recipes and experiences. We would love to hear from you.