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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Cinco de Mayo! (Prickly Pear Everything)

Thank you, "Sweet Life Bake.com" for the photo
I proudly boast of my Southwestern roots. I may not be related to the land via Native descent, but dammit I am a Tucsonan! I am from the Southwest! And I love Cinco de Mayo parties!!!

Actually, Cinco de Mayo is more an American thing than anything. Many mistake it for the Mexican Independence Day, which is actually September 16th. Cinco de Mayo marks the battle of Puebla...but you can look that up. In Mexico, they go to church, and maybe have a few drinks...they don't really celebrate it like we do. Sure, there'll be the party here and there, but not like here in America. In America, we party-hearty. We do this, especially, in Tucson, which is my hometown.

Wanna get down with the Sonoran Desert crowd? Get yourself a few prickly pears...or cactus pears...which you can buy at the store for, like, $4/lb, which is ridiculous because you can find that shit literally everywhere in AZ and we would probably punch you in the face if you tried to charge for that. Honestly, coming here and seeing prickly pears for that much was a serious sticker shock for me!

I suppose it makes sense, though...you know, supply and demand and whatnot.

But if you live in the desert, prickly pear cacti grow like crazy. The cool thing about the actual plant is that you can cut off a "leaf" and plant that leaf in the ground...and it'll grow. I remember having to actually dig one up as a kid because one fell on the ground and took root. My grandma was picking thorns out of my hands for a solid hour, because I was stupid enough to think: "Oh, I'll just wear one glove and only grip it between the thorns!" How I survived my childhood without dying, I'll never know.

This is what a prickly pear cactus looks like. You also call them "nopales", which are the green "leaves" of the plant. If you peel them and get all of the thorns off, you can cook with it. The taste is bitter, but they're high in calcium, magnesium, and have 3 grams of fiber per serving...so hey, that's good nutritional value in the desert. I can understand why and how a civilization can be built using this thorny plant as a cornerstone.

The picture to the left is a lot like what grew in the Family Home, and now that my parents live there, they have small children, which can be sticky with that kind of plant around. Honestly, though, Dad doesn't mind the prickly pears or the night bloomers...there's quite the desert garden out there, so he just lets it grow. We've yet to harvest the cactus pears for ourselves, but prickly pear-anything is my shit. 

In Tucson, you get prickly pear margaritas, prickly pear syrup for waffles and pancakes...there's even a place in Tucson called the Bread and Butter Cafe that serves Prickly Pear Meringue Pie in the spring(which is my absolute favorite pie in the world, by the way...)! I remember experimenting with prickly pear puree in culinary school to make soufflees, which tasted delicious, but never got that elusive pink color that I wanted unless I added dyes. But I digress.

Celebrate Cinco De Mayo with this recipe from Emeril Lagasse:

  • 3 ounces tequila blanco
  • 1/2 -ounce Cointreau
  • 1 1/2 ounces lime juice
  • 2 ounces prickly pear syrup
  • Kosher salt and turbinado sugar, for garnishing the glass
  • Kumquats and lime peels, for garnish


Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and pear syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to incorporate. Wet the rim of a margarita glass and dip into salt and sugar mixture. Pour margarita into glass over ice. Garnish with a kumquat and a curled piece of lime peel.

Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2007

Sure, he's not a Tucsonan, like me...but I've done this one, and it's a good fail-safe recipe. You can buy prickly pear syrup online and save it to use not only in margaritas, but in iced teas and lemonades...or make your own:

Prickly Pear Syrup

  • 4 cactus pears, medium sized, BRIGHT fukken pink, if you can help it
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 8 oz water
Peel the pears by wearing thick gardening gloves and using a paring knife. Roughly chop into 1 inch pieces and pop into a blender. Boil the sugar and water together to dissolve, then pour the hot syrup over the pears. Blend. Strain this through cheese cloth or just a fine mesh strainer to rid yourself of seeds and pulp. You can also adjust the sugar and water amounts to your tastes, but this is generally fine for me. 

You can also get prickly pear marmalade from Cactus Candy Company and have it on toast, or(my favorite) with your waffles. OR you can make your own Prickly Pear Gum Drops and really feel the flavors of the Southwest!

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