Step by step instructions for going about safely picking and eating Prickly Pear Cactus.
Step 1: Locate a Fruiting Prickly Pear Cactus
Native to the arid south, Prickly Pear is an easily distinguishable plant. Often adorned with the red/purple fruits atop the pears and for brief periods, beautiful flowers atop of those. Pay attention to the pictures. Although this tutorial is geared towards the fruit, the pads are also quite edible and a staple food for many communities.
Step 2: Do Not Touch! Yet...
Notice the arsenal of nasty spines that usually accompany cactus. Though painful in their own right the visible thorns do hurt... but the tiny hairs that look like white nubs/dots upon the fruit are the real danger (called glochids). If touched, dozens if not hundreds of near microscopic spines will embed into the skin and will most likely result in day upon day of frustrated scratching/picking to pull them out one by one as they fester.
Tip: If you do end up touching these... I along with others are judging you. Also, you can usually use tape to pull the majority of these out.
Step 3: You'll Need One of These
This is a Pear Burner and is used to singe the thorns and "de-claw" cactus/fruit. The orange hose is attached to a propane tank, my left hand by squeezing controls the on demand output of the flame, the red knob near the grip controls the continuous bleed of propane that maintains a lit flame when not on full torch.
Note: This is a fun yet dangerous tool. Please make sure to read all directions and take care not to light the forest on fire.
Step 4: Time to Torch It
Point the torch end at the fruit, squeeze the grip and flame the hate off of that cactus! Apply to all sides. This can take just 3-4 seconds... but to be sure I usually give it a good 10+. Once this has been accomplished the fruit should not pose any further threat.
Step 5: Pick the Fruit Cut or Twist Off
As you can see, the spines are all gone. At this point you can either cut the fruit off (what I'm doing in the picture) or twist/break it off of the pad. The more ripe you find the fruit, the easier it is to pull it off without a knife.
Step 6: Cut Into It and Enjoy!
There are two camps on how to go about doing this. I myself usually just cut down the center and eat it off the skin as seen in the pictures above. The more visually appealing method is to peel the skin off as you would an apple taking a knife and cutting strips away until none remain. One way or another, you have your prize.
There are seeds inside, crunchy but swallow-able if done in small quantities. The taste reminds me of raspberries, sweet and tangy. Take care of what you touch while doing this as the purple colored juice will stain everything you hold dear.
Step 7: Watch This Video to See How It's Done
Not a step, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video ought to be worth at least a thousand pictures. Click on the video above to see how it's done.
Check out my YouTube Channel to see more Videos like this one: HorseBackBob
Update: Upon reading the comments section, there seems to be a great deal of curiosity and some concern as to the effects of this flame upon the pads of the cactus. If they had survived or are lost in this process. They are usually fine, though the cows can now chew on them and often will. I'll post an update in mid-March when I get back out there to that plant to take photos so that there is a definite answer to this question.
THANK YOU ALL for the viewership. I'll be posting more and making more quality instructibles over the coming months. All ideas welcome.