Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cactus Cobbler

I mean, who DOESN'T want to try some tasty tasty cactus cobbler?! 

My mom got back from Arizona the other day, and brought back...some chunks of cactus. Thrilling, I know. For those of us east-coasters who DON'T eat cactus on a regular basis, prickly pears are little red blob things that grow on the ends of those cacti with all the flat "paddles." That's my highly scientific description.

You can eat the paddles too, but the actual prickly pears are a big deal in the southwest. They're covered in invisible little prickers that feel like fiberglass insulation in your skin, they have a million rock-hard seeds that are really hard to get out, the fruit has a weird, slimy texture, kind of like a kiwi, and they taste pretty boring on their own. On the plus side, they're bright pink!

So the challenge was on: make something yummy out of this...special...delicacy. There are two techniques to getting the whole prickly pears into a more edible form, using the juice, and using the pulp. The first is easy, just peel them, pop them into a food processor or a blender, and strain out the seeds and goop. The juice can be used to make jelly, or mixed drinks, or whatever. Being me, I decided to be an idiot and do things the hard way - with the pulp.

Look at all those evil, evil little pokies...
To get the fruit bake-able, the process seems simple enough. First, gloves. These things have nasty little pickers that sneak into your hands. And arms. And anywhere else they can find skin. Everywhere online said to use leather gloves, I thought, "Sweet! I have work gloves!" Then on my way out to the car to get them, I remembered that my work gloves were in West Virginia last week, digging postholes, sealing fences, and patching a trailer roof with the grossest silver gunk in the world. Nevermind...

So once I busted out the yellow rubber gloves, I chopped off either end, pealed the rest, and chopped them all in half. Look! Seeds! Technically, the seeds aren't going to hurt you if you eat them, but they're too big to ignore, and too little to spit out like watermelon seeds. They're little hard globs of teeth-breaking ickyness. I scooped them all out, and tossed the seeds in a strainer to get the last bit of juice out. (The juice is great with some lemonade. Well, I thought so, according to my sister, "clearly this needs more vodka!") So after all that, what's left? Not a lot. For all that work, you really don't get much fruit out of these little guys.

So four hours later, cobbler time! Once you get the prickly pear separated and ready, the cobbler itself isn't very hard. The only strange thing is that the crust doesn't go on top! It has three layers; butter, crust, and filling, put into the pan in that order. Wait, no second layer of crust on top? How could it be?!

See, this cobbler is magic. Along with the flour and sugar and stuff, I sprinkle a little pixie dust into the crust mixture. Just a little. So when you put the whole thing together and bake it, all the little kitchen fairies come out to help, and they move the crust from under the filling to on top of it. Trust me, I know these things, I'm a baker.

So, prickly pear might not be my favorite thing in the world, definitely not my favorite to prepare, but the cobbler came out pretty good! Kind of rhubarbish, kiwish, fruitish...yeah, that's probably my best description of prickly pear, it just tastes like fruit. Like when you get a fruit cup, and there's peaches and pineapples and some weird dark orange thing that nobody knows what it is and it just tastes like fruit? That's what prickly pear's like. But hey, it makes a decent cobbler!

Prickly Pear Cobbler
Adapted from Mother Earth News

3 cups chopped prickly pear
 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar (I used a cup and it was too sweet, taste it to see what you like, keeping in mind that there's a lot of sugar in the crust too)
1 tbs cornstarch
3 tbs lime juice
1/2 cup of water
1 stick butter
1 cup of flour
1 cup of sugar (for crust)
1 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of salt
1 cup of milk
2 tsp vanilla

Place the prickly pear, filling sugar, cornstarch, lime juice, and water in a saucepan and boil (with stirring) until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.
To prepare the crust, begin by putting the butter in an 8x8 inch pan in the oven as it preheats to 350. Then, in a mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, and vanilla together and pour the resulting mixture—which should have the consistency of pancake batter—into the hot pan, on top of the melted butter. Do not stir. Pour filling on top of crust mixture. Again, do not stir.
Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.


  1. weird. I remember at our grocery store in california there was always the "paddles" in the produce section, so there must have been the prickly pears as well but I don't remember seeing them.

  2. I just moved to a house that has a huge cactus with LOTS OF PEARS. I am totally going to make this!!