The fruit of the prickly pear cactus, also called tuna in Spanish, has been a staple of Native American and Central American cuisine for centuries. The plant has been introduced to southern Europe as well, where it is also considered a delicacy.
Prickly pear cactus fruits ripen in the late summer and early fall. Pears with reddish orange to purple skin are considered to be the sweetest. Green and white pears can be eaten too. The skin of the pear is covered with glochids, which are tiny, almost-invisible barbed hairs. When selecting and buying unpeeled pears, use gloves or tongs. If you come in contact with any glochids, they will drive you crazy.
When preparing the pears, first soak them in a container of cold water. This will rinse away most of the glochids, but not all. Next, while wearing gloves, remove the pear from the water and slice off both ends so you can stand the pear up on one side. Make a lengthwise score down the pear deep enough that you can slip the knife under the skin and peel it off. Now you can slice up the pear or cut it up in any way you prefer and eat it. The whole thing is edible, even the seeds, but don't chew the seeds; they're hard.
Prickly pear fruit can be eaten raw, and it can be made into jams, sorbets, and candies. Prickly pears taste a lot like kiwifruit.
(Image: Kathryn Hill)