When I moved here I was disappointed that my prickly pears were all Hairspine (Opuntia polycantha) with beautiful flowers but no juicy fruit for me to eat.
Last year a friend gave me pads from two different species with edible fruit. I collected pads that fruit from a neighbor. I put all of them out last summer and they survived winter and are doing well. No fruit yet, but new pads are showing up.
I placed a half dozen along the north property line like well armed soldiers. As my hedge fills in I am dreaming of delicious tuna and a natural fence.
To pick fruit, use tongs to twist them off and drop in a basket. My preferred way to de-prickle them is to pass them over a flame. Slice open and spoon out the rich fruit. If you get a lot of fruit, you can deseed the pulp, add sugar and lemon/peel and preserve. The tunas can be turned into fruit leather, jelly, syrup, pie, fruit water, and popsicles.
The pads are singed to remove the spines, thinly sliced, then eaten raw, cooked, or canned as pickles. I once watched the guys in Mexico shearing off spines with a machete… do not try that at home.
Once my hedge fills in I will be able to harvest pads as well as fruit. I like the tiny new pads before they armor up. I use the dried seeds in bread, using my food processor to break them. I want to try sprouting the seeds during winter.
There are nearly 60 species of prickly pear. They are food to many mammals and birds, as well as protective cover to smaller animals including my prairie lizards. Ranchers sometimes burn the spines off and slash them to feed livestock… even chickens.
Some locations have an abundance and call prickly pear a nuisance. I believe a hardy, low water use edible is a blessing and if there are many of them, turn them into commercial food production.
I planted my new prickly pears in bare dry spots and let the pinyon pine grow where it will. I will not remove my Hairspine species and count on it to continue its service inside my food forest as food and shelter for wildlife.
This is a no work food source that has sculptural beauty and is glorious in bloom. Perfect for a circular economy. Each year that passes, my food forest is richer.
Many of the things I plant are perennial and get more productive every year. Low return up front can be discouraging to someone used to the “instant” gratification of walking into a grocery store because they don’t take into consideration the hours worked to pay for food plus hours worked to pay tax on the food dollars plus hours required to shop add insecurity in the market economy job market. Worst of all is the lack of future food returns like when a second or third generation can pick peaches and preserve the bounty. Fresh fruit makes an appreciated gift to others, including your grandchildren.