Well folks, cactus pears are in season. I know you've been hemming and hawwing about what to do with the abundance of fruit coming out of your cactus garden. It's your lucky day. I've got you covered.
Okay. You weren't thinking that. Most likely you're quite aware that the local cacti are covered in red fruit, but eat it? Um.... hell no? I'm just taking a stab, but is that what you're thinking? I was. I thought that for my entire life until last week. I had no intention of eating one of those things until my sister got in touch with me and offered to take me out to harvest the prickly pear bounty on her land. She also promised me beer, so I said I was pretty sure I could free up my schedule.
Last Wednesday I donned my jeans and socks, grabbed a canvas bag and headed east to Jenna's land. Once there we grabbed our Lone Stars and leather gloves, hopped on the tractor (apparently the noise scares off the snakes), and went a pickin'.
Well, the first prickly pear we came across was covered in stink bugs. Teensy tiny ones. I screamed each time I saw one. Then I screamed when I picked one covered in ants. Then I screamed when the cactus spines went through my leather gloves and stuck my hands. And finally, I screamed when the cactus spines came out of my canvas bag of prickly pears and stuck my leg. That's when I realized I'd best down my beer and grow a pair. This is Texas and she's not for the faint of heart.
Jenna and I finally developed a system. Jenna would knock the cactus onto the snake- and scorpion-infested ground and I would duck beneath tiny cactuses that apparently spit thorns at you if you touch them and gingerly pick up each prickly pear. This insured the prickly pears had been jostled enough to knock of the critters that covered them and it kept Jenna from risking a face full of jumping cactus thorns. Hmmmm.... I think I fell for a dirty trick.
One hour later I had a bag full of prickly pears and a hide full of cactus spines. It was honestly fantastic. I lugged my bounty home and left it on the kitchen floor, too afraid of errant stink bugs to peek inside of the bag until the next day. I spent the rest of the evening, tweezers in hand, just waiting for all of the cactus spines to make themselves known. You'll be happy to know that after five days I finally removed the last spine.
So was it worth it? Actually.... yeah. It was so, so worth it. Now what do with the bounty? After 24 hours of solid pondering over the fate of those painful fruits I settled on ice cream sauce. To peel the fruit I wised up and used my plastic covered gardening gloves. Those fully protected me from the spines. I stewed the fruit down with a little wine and cinnamon until they were sweet and tart. The wine gave the fruit a little more body than they would have had otherwise, and the cinnamon gave it a little kick. But it needed balance... it needed balance with some dark chocolate.... some dark chocolate, melted into a sauce and infused with ancho chilis. And the last thing it needed was the perfect ice cream. And naturally I chose another local favorite... goat milk ice cream!
I'm not much of an ice cream eater because it makes me sick as hell. Lactose and me have not been BFFs for many years now. That doesn't stop me from eating the stuff every now and then. It's generally followed by hours of moaning and groaning, so I rarely venture into the ice cream aisle without an extra special craving. Well, one of those cravings led me into that aisle and while pondering the hours of pain sure to follow I stumbled upon a local gem, Brazos Supreme goat's milk ice cream. (I highly recommend checking out their website. You'll be amazed at the tininess of their operation and vast array of ice cream flavors available.) Surely this was the answer to all of my lactose problems!! Well, I snapped the ice cream up and off I went. Tasty stuff, seriously tasty in fact and sometimes hard to find. I found mine at Whole Foods and I saw it Wheatsville too. Speaking of finding things, I also found out there's lactose in goat's milk. Didn't stop me from scarfing up that ice cream though. It's a creamy and sweet, with a little edge, which I figure is the goat in it.
Dinner last night was cheese enchiladas with an ancho chipotle sauce, topped with a fried egg. And dessert was a goat milk ice cream sundae with ancho chocolate sauce and prickly pear compote. With a Mexican wedding cookie on the side.
The moral of this story... even if my sister doesn't offer me beer next time, I might still be lured out to her land to gather cactus pears. But this time she's ducking the jumping cactus.
Goat's Milk Ice Cream Sundaes with Prickly Pear Compote, Ancho-Infused Chocolate Sauce and Mexican Wedding Cookies
For the Prickly Pear Compote
About 20 ripe prickly pears (should yield about 5 cups of puree)
1 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
To prepare the prickly pears first rinse them down in cold water. This should remove some of the spines. Using thick rubber gloves slice the ends off of each prickly pear. Then you can either peel the skin off by hand or you can use a vegetable peeler.
Puree the prickly pears in a blender. Strain the puree through fine mesh. You don't want any seeds in your puree, they're like rocks. Put the puree in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sugar, wine and cinnamon sticks. Simmer it until it's sweet and slightly tart. It will take 30 mins to one hour, depending on the ripeness of your fruit.
For the Ancho-Infused Chocolate Sauce
Adapted from Chez Pannise Desserts by Lindsay Shere and Alice Waters
3.5 oz 73% chocolate
7 Tbsp heavy cream
3 1/2 Tbsp water
3 tsp roughly ground dried ancho chili, with seeds
Heat the cream to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat, add the dried ancho chili and cover the saucepan and let sit for 30 mins.
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan heat chocolate and water on very low heat. Melt chocolate. Strain cream into chocolate and water and whisk together until smooth. Serve warm.
For the Mexican Wedding Cookies
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Pulse the nuts in a food processor until most are finely ground with a few chunks.
Cream butter and granulated sugar together until just fully combined and smooth. Add salt, vanilla and pecans. Stir to combine. Add flour one cup at a time till just blended.
Roll the dough into a smooth even log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in parchment paper and chill at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Slice the log into half inch pieces and bake 20 mins. Rotate pans halfway through bake if cookies are darkening too quickly on the bottom. The will be lightly golden when done.
Let cool. Once cool roll in powdered sugar to serve.