The other day while out riding my mountain bike (on a trail that’s mostly cement, because I’m – yes – a chicken) I remembered that I’d seen some prickly pear fruit coming in. If you’re not a native of the Southwest, you may not know that prickly pear cactus actually flower and fruit over the course of a summer. The flowers are really nice, especially on a super-prickly looking plant. The fruits are these funky little bright red/purple bulb-shaped things, and those are what I’d spotted. As I headed to the part of the trail where I’d seen the fruit, I stopped at the edge of a park to grab a handy dog-poo-picker-upper bag. I stuffed it in my pocket and headed on.
There were several cactus plants along the ride that looked promising in terms of fruit, but which presented varying levels of difficulty. One large plant was up a very rocky (probably rattlesnake-infested) hill alongside a road that was posted for trespassing. Challenging. Another was deep in high grass (ticks… bleh). Finally I found a good batch in moderately safe territory, and I went for it.
You may think I’m joking about the rattlesnakes, but they are native to my part of Texas, and they like rocky spots or places with lots of loose timber – just the kind of terrain around my mountain bike path. So I made some noise as I approached the cactus, just in case. As I got close, reaching around stickers that were anywhere from a half inch to an inch long, I saw that the cactus fruit were covered with lots of those gross stink bug critters. I would not be deterred, though, so I flicked the fruit a couple of times, hoping the tremor would scare the bugs off. Gently I pried the fruit loose, embedding fine stickers in the skin of my fingertips (owwww). I got about 4 fruits, tucked them carefully into my bag, and affixed the bag into the water-bottle holder on my bike. I repeated this same process again at another cactus patch, coming up with about 6 fruits. Triumphant, I began my ride home. Crossing a small area of dirt (off-roading! I’m super tough!) the bag came loose and plopped on the ground. In my hurry to stop and regain my treasures, I jammed on the brakes, forgetting that I was clipped onto the bike, and nearly fell. The resulting urgent yanking of feet off of pedals was probably very amusing for anyone watching. Fruits re-secured, I labored on home, where I gently trimmed and peeled.
Why all the fuss? Because prickly pear fruit results in a rich purple-red sweet pulp that is pure heaven when added to a frozen margarita. Don’t believe me? Go forage for your own, I dare you.