Cactus Apple

Yesterday, I posted a cactus flower.  My artsy cactus flower.  The truth is that the wind was blowing the cactus plants all around, and I was doing my routine St. Vitus number with the camera so the flower was out of focus.  I did have one photograph that was reasonably focused, but I liked the artsy one.  Now, that’s downright silly.  It showed you nothing about what a cactus plant and its blossoms and fruit look like.  It wasn’t even a good artsy photo!  Today, I am posting what I hope are photographs that illustrate what the prickly pear cactus actually looks like.

This photograph shows the bud (beside and to the right of the flower) from which the flower opens.  The edible nopalito (new leaf  pad)  is to the left of the flower.  It has already developed its almost invisible glocids (hair-like spines) and the larger spines, both of which stick in the skin, but it is still edible.  This nopal or  nopilato is the pad-shaped part of the cactus that is boiled, grilled, served in salads or made into many other dishes throughout the southwestern US as well as in Mexico and Latin America.  These new pads appear in the spring and are harvested while they are still bright green and tender.  They are sold in grocery stores and labeled “Tuna”.

Here you can see the flower buds before they open.  The spent flowers have fallen off from their bases as you see along the top edge of the cactus pad.  The remaining bulbous bases will develop into the cactus fruit which is called a pear.  The bulb on the center left of the pad is further along in this development process.  It is said that the deep purple or orange fruit is the sweetest.

In this photograph, you can see the mature cactus pears as well as ones that are still developing.   The pears here are probably too old to eat.  They look as if insects have already feasted on them.   I saw a video in which a man used a blow torch to burn off the glocids from the pears before he picked them using tongs to avoid getting glocids in his skin.  Native Americans simply pounded or dragged them through the hard, packed sand to remove the spines and glocids.   They are peeled and eaten much the same as apples, and are referred to colloquially as “cactus apples” in some places.  Jams, jellies, sorbet, candy and even wine are also made from the pears.

The prickly pear nopalitos are popular in Europe and in the Mediterranean as well as in the southern United States.  It is considered to be a  healthy diet staple in areas where it grows wild and is widely eaten in many countries.  The cactus grows wild from South America to Canada.  Shimon told me that it also grows in Israel where its flowers are much appreciated.  It is grown commercially for distribution in stores and markets.  The lowly prickly pear has gained a new appreciation among gourmets and foodies as well as among dietitians.  It tastes like green beans and is recommended as an approved source of vegetable nutrition for diabetics.  There appears to be no limit to its success.  I suspect that the early native American would smile if he knew that the common “Beaver Tails” are regarded as a gourmet dish by people today.

33 Comments on “Cactus Apple

  1. Do you know that I almost posted a picture from a prickly pear cactus growing in our yard? GREAT MINDS think alike!! I’m glad I didn’t because your pictures are so much more interesting. I call them stowaway cactus because they get mixed in and imported with the pine straw that they use for mulch around here. This year was so unseasonably warm that they actually flowered. I was so excited!

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  2. This cactus is beautiful, and you have captured amazing details of it; love all the colors in the forst photo, and the detail in the last one.

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  3. Pingback: Let’s Hear it for Succulents!! | small house/BIG GARDEN

  4. I’ve only eaten cactus once in my life and it was amazing! This definitely reminds me of that time I ate it 🙂 Such great memories, thanks for bringing them back! And thanks for posting these pictures, you did a great job at capturing the essence of what you were speaking about 🙂 Have a great night!

    ~My Blog

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  5. Excellent sequence George. An informative and fascinating account. I had to look up info on Canadian Cactus. The Saskatchewan variety might winter in our area. Would be fun to freak out people with a cactus garden in the front. 😀

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    • Ha Ha. Yes, it would, but they’d all be suing you when they touch the apples and get stickers all over that turn into terrible infections…pain and suffering, you know! I think they’d be fine if you covered them in the freezing weather.

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  6. I love prickly pears. We had them growing madly here, but they developed a disease and we had to burn them. So sad, they were delicious!

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    • Ah, I’m sorry you lost them. I think you could start a new patch of them. I never ate one in my life, but everybody says they are delicious like a very sweet peach. I’d get the hair-like spines in all of my fingers for sure if I ever even touched one! I’m accident prone too. Actually, I’m careless. 🙂 I’m surprised that I didn’t stagger into one while I was trying to snap them with the new miniscule camera! I am still thinking about all of your accidents. I am amazed. You are a cat with at least nine lives. 🙂

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    • The pears do grow on the tall, cylindrical cacti. I have never seen them in person, but I have seen photos of them. There are many kinds of cacti. We have the prickly pear kind that grow lower to the ground and multiply by growing more “beaver tail” pads. Thanks for visiting, Carl.

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  7. i was in Tucson a couple weeks ago, at Tanque Verde ranch, and was astonished to see the desrt in bloom — tried REALLY hard to get some photos of the stunning flora, but failed. i can now send people here when they ask me what i saw. granted,

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    • Daisy, just point your camera and snap the button. Ha Ha. I know how you feel. I’ve done the same thing many times. I think I have some wonderful photos and they’re all out of focus or underexposed or some awful thing. The sun is very bright during the daytime in Arizona. It’s hard to photograph anything in that kind of light. You get over-exposed pictures. Very early in the morning or late evening is the best time. I never go out in the middle of the day here because of the sunlight. Glad you liked my cacti. I need to catch up at your place. You are so good to me. Thanks! 🙂

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    • WOW. Apparently, it grows in many arid areas of the world. The plant has been growing in Texas for two-thousand years. It certainly has evolved survival characteristics like its ability to conserve water and its thorny, tough hide. Thanks for visiting, SE. 🙂

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      • My pleasure, George. At some point the Prickly Pear reached plague proportions somewhere in Australia and an insect, I think, was also introduced to destroy it. Sorry, I’m not good at details! There’s something about it on Wikipedia.

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        • Now THAT is interesting. I can imagine what a nuisance that prickly plant could be if it grew out of control. I have to look for the info on that one. Lots of living things like Australia. The beautiful birds are nuisances. Too much of a good thing is not good! 🙂

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    • Where are you, Boomie? I forget. I hardly notice these plants unless they are blooming or producing fruit. I never saw them until we moved to Texas. They like hot, arid conditions. The easiest way to kill them is to water them. These grow beside a drive-thru order screen where I get barbecue sandwiches. They’ve been there for many years. I didn’t truck out into the desert to find them! 🙂 I did get out of my car and stumble around them while folks were driving up to order. The funny thing is that nobody seemed to think it was odd that an old woman was in the middle of the cacti right beside their cars! They just ignored me. I suppose we pay no attention to odd behavior unless the person’s hair is on fire! Thanks, Boomie.

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    • Soma, you live in Florida, don’t you? Carl says he picked and ate them in Miami. There should be markets in Miami that sell nopalitos and prickly pears. Don’t pick one if you see it. They have hair-like spines that you can’t see on them. I read that it is hard to find the juicy, sweet ones that are ripe enough to be good. Ask at your local market or grocery store. I bet you can find them. Thanks for coming by. I love your new gravatar!

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        • Soma! My geography is a bit off, huh? Ha Ha. I cannot get you fixed in India. You sound like one of my daughter’s American friends. There should be succulent plants in parts of India. I have to google it. I get you mixed up with Madhu. Why, I wonder? I suppose because both of you are beautiful young women. I’m going to have to get off my creaky old butt and come on over to your blog to cement my association of you with India. I also mix up the Dalai Lama with India instead of Tibet. I prefer to consider myself a universal soul instead of a senile old woman. That way, I can excuse my mistakes! 🙂 Thank you for being so kind and for always visiting me even when I don’t visit back! You are a sweetheart! American or not. 😉

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            • Ya, good. Ha Ha. That construction would never point me to India. My cardiologist is from India and he doesn’t like me because I am an old woman and I smoke. (No, I would never think of profiling people, now would I? Ha Ha.) Hey, I got that information about him from my Cuban internist who is a friend. He is a brilliant man whose research is impressive as is his cutting-edge equipment. There is a standing joke here about the war between the Cowboys and the Indians. The Indians are replacing the American cardiologists in status in the medical community, and the old “cowboy” cardiologists who didn’t keep up with advances in cardiology don’t like it. The whole thing amuses me since one of the “cowboy” cardiologists almost caused my husband to lose his legs or have artery bypasses in them which were known to fail. That was many years ago. I can only imagine what horrors they are visiting on patients today! Thank goodness I found Dr. Chandna … even if he doesn’t like me! 🙂

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  8. Yum….this so reminds me of growing up in my hometown of Freer, Texas. Mother would have me hop the fence in the evening and gather some nopalitos for breaksfast. She would chop the tender cactus leaves and cook with scrambled eggs and a good dash of salsa. When the Pear apples were right we would gather those for jellies and also for pie. The easiest way was to take a piece of old towel and simply rub the outside of the fruit rather briskly…the tender small thorns actually rub off easily. Only the more mature leaves would have the stiff thorns The fruit was very juicy and very sweet…ShimonZ described it perfectly like a very sweet peach. We would also just pick a few as kids and eat them for snacks….however I have gotten in trouble more than a few times for getting the brilliant wine red juice on some of my clothing….it stained like crazy…your clothes, your lips, your fingers, your tongue. Was super yummy though and totally free. How cool is that? Not much we can go out and gather and eat for free any more….dewberries down at the creek are about all these days. Thanks for the memories George…..and also the beautiful pictures.

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    • Thanks, Nia. They grow in arid places, not necessarily deserts, but drier climates. I don’t know if they grow in Turkey. I have to google it. Thanks!

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  9. I really like these pictures, George. We eat the fruit with relish here, and they are quite sweet… like a very sweet peach. The problem is that they have quite a few seeds inside… and the thorns on the outside. But we usually cut the skin off with a knife, while holding the pair in a handkerchief. It is very juicy and tasty.

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    • I am so pleased that you like my pictures. I can’t figure out why my photographs always look like these. I looked back at some of my posted photos. They all look like this. They are bright and close-up and different from the ones I see everybody else posting. You are the professional. What am I doing that produces this kind of photograph? Shouldn’t I get the same result that you get when I snap a photograph? This puzzles me. Thanks, Shimon.

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