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How to Handle a Prickly Pear

Prickly pear, or cactus pear, is the bright-purple fruit of the opuntia cactus plant. Most people know of prickly pear margaritas, that fruity drink made at Mexican restaurants and tequila bars. But on its own, the fruit is actually pretty delicious, sort of like a cross between a kiwi and a cherry. Since it's prickly pear season right now (they can survive cold weather easily), I picked up a few from the local market the other day. Navigating a prickly pear isn't hard, but it looks daunting for the newcomer. Here's how to handle it.

Most prickly pears you'll find around here come with the poky spines removed already. If you find some that aren't, however, you'll want to get rid of those by scrubbing with something abrasive like a brush before handling.

Cut the top and bottom off the pear. You'll notice the pear sort of smells like freshly cut grass. The taste is much sweeter.

Make a slice from top to bottom and use the cut to peel off the skin with your hands. Make sure you get all the little clusters where the spines were. Alternatively, you can just slice the skin off with a knife, but you'll lose more fruit that way.

Slice the pear in half and remove any large seeds you see. The seeds are edible, but they're also quite hard. Biting into one firmly can mean a trip to the dentist.

Slice and serve. You can also purée at this point and use the juice to make a drink. If your pear is extra-seedy, try passing the purée through a mesh. Try this one on for size.

Prickly Pear Margarita

2 ounces real agave tequila
1 ounce of orange liquor such as Cointreau
Juice of half a lime
2 ounces prickly pear juice

Combine in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Pour into a salt- or sugar-rimmed cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of lime or lemon.

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John Linn

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