Recently we moved to Tucson AZ, and I was struck by seeing how Prickly Pears grow all over town. Many people grow them as ornamentals in their yard; also they can be found growing wild along roadsides, in vacant lots, and in rural areas. Traditionally, the Mexicans and Native Americans of this area use several parts of this plant. The green pads are used as a vegetalbe and herbal remedy. The fruits may be eaten fresh, or cooked. Or, as we'll show here, they may be crushed and strained, and the resulting juice used as is, or to make syrups, jellies, beverages, etc.
In this presentation we started with a large bowlful of fruits (bowl capacity 1 1/2 gallons) and finished up with 5 pints of juice. It went straight to the freezer, except for one pint for immediate use, because it's hiighly perishable in its natural raw state. Some people go on to make syrup, jelly, etc, which is not so perishable, but the immediate end product of this instructible needs to be refrigerated or frozen.
CAUTION: if you use this juice as is, be careful, because each tablespoon of juice contains the essence of several fruits. This fruit has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar. So use this juice sparingly, about a tablespoon at a time at first, especially if your blood pressure and blood sugar are already ok.
I learned to do this from a presentation by a young Native woman at the local Farmer's Market. I've asked around my Native and Mexican neighbors and found that the method she showed us, with variations, is pretty standard around here among the old timers. However, each family and region may have slightly different ways.
Prickly Pears have been a traditional part of the diet of Native and Mexican people of the region for thousands of years. Recently, scientists are discovering that they're good to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and may prevent all sorts of modern diseases. In fact, it's become a "superfood" fad, with a 16 ounce bottle of the juice (similar to what we're making in this instructable but probably diluted and cooked and maybe with preservatives) going for around 20 to 50 dollars at health food stores or on the multi level market. So if you're fortunate enough to live in a place where prickly pear grows, you can get the pure raw natural product for free, for just a few hours of natural healthy work. The resulting juice may be used as is, or as a base for other products / projects.
One thing that surprised me was that the fruits may be prepared skin and all! There's no need to remove the thorns / glochids prior to mashing / grinding because straining through several successive meshes takes care of all the thorns, even the tiny hairlike glochids which can cause the most misery.
Nowadays people use cooking tongs to harvest the fruits, a blender to crush the fruit to get at the juice, and several grades of mesh or cloth to filter and make sure all the thorns and glochids are out. However in ancient times, or in remote areas where modern conveniences are not available, the fruits may be harvested using tradtional tongs carved of native wood (eg, mesquite, segauro ribs, etc), crushed using various hand implements, then strained using whatever appropriate materials are locally available.
In addition, the young green pads can be eaten like a vegetable, and some people peel the fruits and eat them as is, seeds and all. We won't go into that here, as there are other instructables about this, and eating small hard seeds like this may lead to digestive difficulties in some people. Here, we're just talking about making the juice.
For this instructable we're focusing on the fruit of the Prickly pear cactus. However, there are other varieties of cactus that grow around here, seguaro, charro, etc. They have edible fruits also, which may be prepared in a similar manner.
Step 1: Stuff you need
A large clean bowl or bucket for carrying the fruits.
We use tongs to harvest the fruits, and a sturdy plastic bowl to carry them home. The bowl shown here, an old plastic salad bowl, holds about 1 1/2 gallons. From 1 1/2 gallons of fruit we were able to make about 5 pints of finished juice.
Then when we get home we'll need the following items:
Water (if you're in the city it's handy to have a hose from a tap, and to do this outside, as it all gets messy.)
Several plastic containers of various shapes and sizes including some with lids for storing the finished juice in the freezer. For this purpose we use BPA free plastic.
A blender if you've got access to power. Otherwise you can mash the fruits with a potato masher, hand grinder, or whatever you have.
A wire mesh strainer for the first straining and a collander to get more juice out of the mash after it's strained,
Several pieces of clean food-grade cloth of varying weaves, loose and tight. We used an old sleeveless T-shirt, a piece of pillowcase, and a kitchen towel. Also you'll need rubber bands for securing the cloth over the plastic containers to make the strainer.
Afterward, you'll want glue and/or tweezers to get the thorns / glochids out of your hands. No matter how careful you are, you'll get some.
The glouchids are especially irritating and hard to remove. It's easier to remove them before you wash your hands, as washing your hands may cause them to break off at the skin level If this happens, sometimes it helps to coat the area with glue, let it dry, then pull carefully with the grain. Duct tape also works sometimes.
If you're in a remote area without access to modern conveniences, use sap from the pinon or mesquite, it will work like glue. If you can't get the glouchids out, don't worry; just cover the spot with glue, tape, or sap to prevent further irritation / infection. Eventually your skin will work them out, the same way as it works out certain kinds of piercings.
We also included a pic of our two dogs, because they're good watchdogs and good companions and we love them. However, you don't really need dogs to do this, and if you have them, don't let them get into the juice. It has some very powerful effects on one's blood pressure and blood sugar, and small dogs like this could easily take too much. There's veteneray herbalists here in town, I'll check around and find out the safe dose for dogs, which probably depends on body weight, and post this info if I can find it.