Another spring harvest favorite is the Prickly Pear Cactus pad. The smaller, spring time pads are tender and have less large spines. However, they are full of glochids (small, hair-like spines) that are annoying if you are unlucky enough to get them in your skin. The good news is that they are not barbed like the Cholla spines, so they are easy to remove.
In order to harvest and eat prickly pear pads, you must:
- Harvest them from the cactus
- Carefully remove all spines and glochids
- Prepare them for eating or storage
In this picture, note the smaller pads with the green, rubbery spines. These are the young and tender pads that are good to harvest. While holding the pad with a pair of tongs, it can be cut at the joint or broken off.
The spines can be removed using a sharp knife. You will need something to hold the pad so your fingers do not become full of the tiny stickers. First, run your knife around the edge to cut off the edge spines and then run your knife along the flat surface like you were peeling a carrot or potato. I find it easier to start at the top and run down, with the top being the top of the pad as shown in the pictures below. After cutting the spines off both sides, run the pad under some water to wash any loose spines and dirt off. Most of the spines will be gone at this point, but some may be stuck in the skin and will have to be removed. Note that on this particular pad I cut out the grayish discoloration and that is why it ended up looking like Pacman. The difference in colors between the two pictures is because of the light. One was taken in the shade and the other in full sunlight. As you can see, I decided to grill this pad on the BBQ.
Eating and Storing
The pads can be cooked in various ways. They can be grilled till they are soft or can be sauteed and added to eggs, salads, casseroles, any anything else that would require a green vegetable.
As for storing, I suppose you could maybe freeze them, but I haven’t tried this yet. I’ll have to do some more research on preserving them.