If I were the betting type, I’d guess that you’ve got prickly pears in your neighborhood. Here in our high-desert climate, the Nopal cactus is very common, almost invasive, so chances are if you haven’t got one in your yard, a neighbor does! If not, have no fear. The fruit of this cactus, the Prickly Pear or “tuna”, is readily available at many farmers’ markets and ethnic grocers this time of year. (If you do have it growing nearby, you can harvest the pads or nopales, too! Singe off the sharp spines with a lighter, peel the thick outer layer with a vegetable peeler, julienne and steam or sautee as you would green beans.)
When ripe, the flesh of the Prickly Pear is a gorgeous bright, magenta color, and it tastes very sweet. It has a flavor like something between a banana and raspberries. Eaten on its own, it might be a little too sweet for some, plus it is full of hard seeds that can make it difficult to eat. But where it really shines is in cocktails (the seeds will sink to the bottom of your glass) Most especially in one of my favorite summer beverages, the Mojito, that happens to utilize another invasive crop–mint. For kids or non-drinkers, just omit the rum for a delicious limeade.
The traditional Mojito calls for simple syrup, but I like to play off of the southwestern theme and use agave instead. If you don’t have either, you can sub a sweet lemon-lime soda such as Sprite for the club soda, and you won’t need an additional sweetener.