April is the month in which Cholla Buds are harvested. These delicious buds are nutritious and versatile. I personally like to roast them in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper, but i have also sauteed them with other seasonings. However, before you can cook with them, you will need to know what cholla buds look like and how to harvest them.
An example of an edible bud is shown in the picture below, while it is still on the plant. They are ready to harvest when you see the purplish flower forming a tip, just like in the picture. The idea is to harvest at this point just before the flower fully emerges. Note: I’ve found the later buds to be easier to clean of the spines.
To remove the bud from the plant, use a pair of tongs and twist the bud until it is free from the cholla. Be careful not to pull the entire segment from the cactus. Using the twisting motion to remove it from the plant usually frees it from the plant with relative ease. DO NOT touch the buds as the spines can be painful to remove! I like to collect the buds in a plastic strainer.
After you’ve collected some buds, it is time to get those nasty little spines off! Most methods involve using either a blanket or screen and rolling the buds over it to remove the spines. I personally use the screen method and a corn broom to sweep them over the screen. The following picture depicts the screen that I use. It is a 2.5′ x 8′ piece of metal lath that I stapled to a wood frame. My frame is not pretty, but I used reclaimed wood from and old shed that I tore down, so I had to make due with the pieces that I had. I have the frame elevated off the ground with some 2×4’s underneath. I simply put the buds on the screen and brush them back and forth with the broom until I am satisfied that most of the spines have been removed. I say “most” because while most of the spines fall off easily, some of the smaller ones are stubborn. You can pull these out later when you prepare them for cooking or storage. After you cook the buds, they spines soften, so if you happen to have a few left on the bud… it is ok. If you are eating a cactus you have to be prepared to be stuck now and then anyway!
Here is a before and after picture of the buds
Now, since the buds have been harvested and the spines removed, they are ready to be cooked, frozen, dried, or preserved by your favorite method for later use.