How to work with prickly pear fruit

The pulp of the bulbous, magenta-colored fruit of the prickly pear cactus is flavorful, acidic and a wonderful addition to cocktails, lemonade and desserts—but it’s not called prickly pear for nothing. To remove the ripe, juicy pulp, you must overcome large spikes, imperceptibly small spines and a thin, calloused skin.

Mariena Mercer of BarMagic of Las Vegas grew up picking and eating fresh prickly pears that grew by Chaparral High School. Still, it was not until she became a tequila goddess at Treasure Island’s Isla Mexican Kitchen that she discovered the smoky, earthy, tangy flavor it brings to tequila and margaritas.

Mercer recommends seeking protection before handling prickly pear fruit. “Put gloves on,” she says. “Then individually pick off the large spines, [and] use tweezers for the smallest ones.”

After that, use a sharp knife to cut the fruit in half to reveal the sweet inner flesh. “Press the skin to expel the pulp—it should come out easily that way,” Mercer says. Then the pulp is ready for use in any recipe.

“They’re extremely tricky,” she says. “But they’re worth the effort.”