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Fruit of the desert: Prickly Pear Festival features cooking demonstratons, products made from cactus

The prickly pear cactus could soon be an agricultural crop.

The New Mexico Prickly Pear Festival on Aug. 31, is a celebration of the cactus, and its use in food and drink and more. (Courtesy of The New Mexico Prickly Pear Festival)

Farmers in New Mexico are “hit hard” with a hotter and drier climate and due to that try to find crops that can survive in that environment. Prickly pears are hardy, drought-tolerant plants, according to Will Thompson, organizer of the New Mexico Prickly Pear Festival.

“I used to have a small farm in the South Valley, and so one of the things I was thinking about was how to get small farmers in New Mexico, how to get them more money from what they produce,” Thompson said. “One of the things that New Mexico has an abundance of but don’t really use is prickly pears. And so I thought that I might try to organize something to bring more attention to prickly pears in New Mexico.”

Thompson is aiming to bring attention to the cactus that boasts large spiny pads and sweet fruit during the Prickly Pear Festival on Saturday, Aug. 31. The event will be held at Three Sisters Kitchen and the surrounding area on Gold between First and Second streets.

Cooking demonstrations by indigenous chef Frankie Peralto of icollective will show attendees how to prepare prickly pear in the kitchen. The demonstrations will be held inside Three Sisters Kitchen. Samples will be available for people who watch the cooking demonstrations.

“Chef is going to come in and do three cooking demonstrations throughout the day, kind of showing people how to use prickly pear fruit and cactus pads in their own kitchens,” Thompson said. “So kind of doing a breakfast, lunch and dinner demonstrations.”

The Desert Oasis Teaching Garden will host a tasting of different kinds of prickly pears that grow in New Mexico. More than 20 vendors will be selling their prickly pear products, including jam, ice cream, a beer brewed with prickly pear from Ex Novo Brewing Co. and soaps with prickly pear extract. A prickly pear cocktail competition featuring some local mixologists will be part of the event. Participants must include the cactus in some form in the cocktail, which can include a syrup made from its fruit.

“I’m always so surprised when people say they haven’t had either, they haven’t had the fruit, they haven’t had nopales,” Thompson said. “And I’m, like, ‘But they’re so good.’ Lots of friends that I have who are from Mexico are, like, ‘Yeah, we eat those like a fruit’ and I’m, like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know why we don’t do that here.’ ”

Part of the festival proceeds will benefit Three Sisters Kitchen, a nonprofit.

“They’re a community kitchen that does a number of things,” Thompson said. “They have a food business incubator program that helps people start food businesses. They do community cooking classes, so they’ll have organizations or chefs come in and teach different groups.”

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