The spines and thorns of the prickly pear cactus make it difficult for desert-dwelling creatures to eat, and that's also true for the humans who come into contact with them. But beyond that defensive perimeter of spikes resides a delicious fruit that bears a resemblance to an oversized berry.
Intrepid foragers will go to great lengths to harvest the wild fruit called tuna, which possesses an indelible taste — like a cross between a strawberry and a kiwi. That's what makes the hazards of collecting tuna worthwhile. Less hardy types can venture to ethnic markets or food co-ops to find the delectable fruit.
A word of advice: Wear gloves when handling prickly pears because the tiny hair-like spines called glochids will irritate the skin. Once tamed, however, the sweetish crimson-colored flesh can be eaten fresh or processed into syrup and jam. Prickly pear margaritas are a delicious introduction to this fierce fruit.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes plus 30 minutes to cool the syrup

Yields: 1 cocktail

Prickly Pear Margarita

Equipment you'll need

  • 2 small saucepans
  • Chef's or paring knife
  • Cutting board
  • Potato masher
  • Mesh sieve
  • Mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup
  • 1 quart jar
  • Shot glass
  • Sealable glass jar with lid
Prickly pear cactus and limes on a cutting board

Ingredients for prickly pear syrup

  • 1 lb. prickly pear cactus
  • 3 cups water, divided
  • 1 cup white cane sugar
Cooking directions for the prickly pear syrup
  1. Cut woody ends off prickly pears and quarter. Using a sharp knife cut along the flesh connecting the skin to the pulp. Place sections in saucepan and cover with water, about 1 cup. Bring fruit to a low boil, over medium heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Pulverize flesh with masher, cook about 10 minutes more and set aside to cool. Chopped prickly pears
  2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a second saucepan, about 6 minutes. Slowly stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Set aside to cool, about 30 minutes.
  3. Place mesh sieve over mixing bowl, strain pulp through sieve. Set aside up to 1 hour to extract as much juice as possible. Yields about 1 cup of juice.
  4. To complete the prickly pear syrup, pour juice into quart jar, add sugar water and shake contents. Yields about three cups.
Ingredients for the margarita
  • 1.5 oz. silver tequila
  • 1 oz. prickly pear syrup
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • Ice cubes
Mixing directions for the margarita
  1. Add ice to glass jar. Squeeze lime and lemon juice into jar. Measure and pour tequila, triple sec and prickly pear syrup into jar. Seal and shake vigorously about 10 seconds. Pour cocktail into a glass with fresh ice. Garnish with lime.
A prickly pear margarita
A refreshing alternative to the traditional lemon-lime combo is the addition of fresh grapefruit juice and sliced jalapenos. Use the same mixing directions above to make this variation.

Ingredients for the grapefuit-jalapeno &prickly; pear margarita

  • 1.5 oz. silver tequila
  • 1 oz. prickly pear syrup
  • 1 oz. triple sec
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. grapefruit juice
  • Half jalapeno, sliced
  • Ice cubes