Recently I (Jacqueline Soule) gave a presentation on edible flowers, and we got sidetracked onto barrel cactus fruit. Barrel cactus fruit are one of my favorites foraged foods because they are easy, plentiful, and even a beginner will be successful! Plus barrel fruit are one thing you can find and forage in almost any month of the year.
Which reminds me – do sign up for the newsletter (scroll to bottom of each page on the website) because each week we will feature a “foraged find!”
Barrel cactus is the generic term for a number of species of large barrel-shaped cacti. The one with the most edible of fruit is the fish hook or compass barrel (Ferocactus wizlizenii). This barrel cactus is unlike many other species of cacti in that it often blooms two or even three times per year, thus providing you, the harvester, with ample fruits, often several times a year.
You can eat the lemony flavored fruit, but only in moderation. Fruit is high in oxalic acid, which can be hard on human systems. But the seeds are just fine to consume in quantity. The seeds are the size, texture and taste of poppy seeds and can be used anywhere you use poppy seeds (muffins, cake, bagles). They are naturally rich in protein and gluten-free. They can be cooked with other small seeds like quinnoa or amaranth.
Barrel cactus seed are very simple to harvest in quantity for three reasons.
1) Fruit have no spines and nice little “handles” (former flower petals) on top.
2) Barrel cacti grow fairly low to the ground and are easy to reach.
3) Seeds are easily removed from the fruit.
One barrel cactus generally has 12 to 24 fruits ripe at once (unless the animals have been busy). 24 fruits yield roughly 1/4 cup of seed.
Prepare (10 minutes for 24 fruit).
Rinse the fruits. This does two things. First, this removes dust and contaminants (bird droppings etc.). Second, the water softens the former flower petals on the top of the fruit, rendering them gentler on tender fingers as you process them.
Cut tops off the fruits. The seed filled chamber is surprisingly far down away from the flower petals.
Cut fruits in half.
Scoop seeds into a terra cotta saucer, or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Leave them 24 to 48 hours to dry. This will dry any bits of flesh clinging to them before you store them.
Alternatively you can put them right onto a baking sheet to toast them if you want to use them toasted.
I keep canning jars of both, toasted and un-toasted, labeled with the Sharpie that lives in the kitchen drawer.
I like to make an assembly line and cut all tops off first, then cut all fruits open, then scoop all the seed. Why? because the seeds inside the fruit may be gummed together and you want to leave the seed scooping to last. If you don’t, you get sticky seeds everywhere and lose a portion of your harvest.
Want to learn more? Look for Jacqueline’s free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event she will be signing copies of my books, including Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press) and Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press). Note – these two links to are to Amazon and if you purchase the book we will get a few pennies.
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