Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published April 30, 2000.)
Q: Are cactus candy and cactus jelly really made out of cactus?
A: There was a time when we would have brought several samples of cactus candy and jelly back for testing in the Valley 101 Research Laboratory. But with the recent shrinking of the paper, we had to pack up lab equipment and put it in storage. It was either that or the bowling trophies.
So, in the absence of a detailed scientific analysis, we put all our trust in Amelio Cassiato, manager of the Cactus Candy Co. in central Phoenix, which, by the way, has a really cool cactus sign out in front.
The company, at 3010 N. 24th St., has been in business since 1942, so one can assume its manager knows where of he speaks. Yes, indeed, said he, cactus candy and cactus jelly really are made out of cactus.
Specifically, they are made out of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, which the company buys by the barrel from a cactus distributor. With the prickly pear fruit in hand, you make cactus candy or jelly the same way you would make, say, apple candy or jelly, except, as Cassiato notes, if you’re careless in handling prickly pear fruit “you
remember it for a while.”
Prickly pears are interesting in that they produce both the fruit and a vegetable — the cactus pads, known as nopales.
Native Americans used nopales as food, as a dressing for wounds or bruises, and even crushed them to use the sticky juice in mortar or whitewash.
As a vegetable, nopales are said to taste like green beans or asparagus, and can be grilled or used in salads, casseroles, soups or other dishes. They have no cholesterol, no saturated fat and only 60 calories per cup, so they are good for you, provided you remember to take the spines off before you eat them.