Known botanically as the Opuntia genus and more commonly as prickly pear or tuna, Mexican cactus pear is a popular fruit crop of the semi arid areas of central Mexico. According to Purdue University, the fruit has been cultivated since pre-Colombian times but came into commercial farming production in the 1960s. Mexican cactus pears are now commonly grown in temperate climates around the world from California to Australia. Cactus pears are consumed fresh, chilled as cut fruit, mixed into beverages or cooked into fruit preserves or candies. A number of cultivars produce blooms and fruit in varying colors from bright magenta pink or golden-peach to white and purple or even brown.
Look for ripe cactus pear cultivars that are ready for harvest beginning in early June and running through November each year.
Observe the individual fruits and the condition of the glochids or spines that cover the skin of the prickly pear as they develop.
Pick each individual cactus pear within eight days after the glochids have fallen off. Beyond this window the fruit is usually past its prime.
Tips & Warnings
- Harvest the ripe fruits by twisting them free from the cactus pad. Do not pull the fruit off as this will tear and damage the cactus and may limit future fruit production.
- Allow the fruits to ripen fully on the plant before harvest. While they will mature in color when picked earlier, the sugar content and flavor of the flesh will be compromised.
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