Hike around Southern California during the summer and you’re bound to find some - prickly pears, tunas, indian figs, ‘Opuntia of the family Cactaceae’ - whatever you want to call it, harvesting it is a pain in the _____ (pick any body part you don’t want spines in). Here are a few tips for how to pick fruit off a cactus and use it during second fermentation.
Tools: Get yourself a good set of leather gloves; cloth gloves will not keep cactus spines out, and in fact the spines will become embedded in the fabric thus making them utterly useless if you go to use them again as gardening gloves - ouch! Bring a good set of metal pruning shears, and make sure you are wearing closed toed shoes with a hard rubber sole - no flip flops with spongy rubber soles. Optionally, you can use a brown paper lunch bag with a half cup of sand in it to help you remove the spines, more on this later.
Another optional tool to have on hand is some white Elmer’s Washable School Glue. Remember those days in elementary school when you would smear white glue on your hand, wait for it to dry, then freak your friends out by pretending you were peeling the flesh off of your hand? No? Just me? Well, if you happen to get some of those fine, hair-like cactus spines in your skin, you can put some Elmer’s glue over the affected area and wait for it to dry. Once dry, peel off the glue and those pesky prickers will come right off too - You’re Welcome!
Once you have located a ripe cactus fruit (no longer green or flowering, is dark red/orange in color) put on those leather gloves and use your shears to cut the fruit at its base where it connects to the paddle (green nopale, also edible). Here is where your bag of sand, or your hard soled shoes will come into use. Roll the fruit back and forth on the ground with your foot; don’t apply so much pressure that you squish it, but this will dislodge the large spines. To get rid of those tiny, hair-like spines, pop your pears into the brown paper sack and shake them up with the sand acting as an exfoliant.
At home, wash your fruit to get rid of any sand, dirt, or cochineal bugs (edible too, and found in some of your favorite foods; seriously, google it). Take your fruit and peel away the outer skin using a knife or potato peeler. Now you are left with the edible fruit and its inedible seeds. I have not found any adverse reaction when I’ve added the fruit and seeds together during second fermentation, but if you would like to strain your fruit first to remove the seeds you can. I know I have to strain my brew after the second fermentation so I typically throw it all in and strain the seeds and fruit out before I bottle each batch.
If you have any leftover fruit, I recommend putting it into a glass mason jar and storing it in the freezer for later use. This fruit is too labor intensive to let leftovers go to waste. I’ve used thawed out cactus fruit after it was frozen for a month and have had great success with it during second fermentation.
Hopefully this post has helped you harvest those tricky tunas and you can enjoy this all too often underappreciated fruit. As always, I welcome questions and blog requests,
until next post dear readers,
Happy Kombucha Brewing!