Named for its pearlike shape and size, the cactus pear comes from any of several varieties of opuntia cactus. Its prickly skin can range in color from green to purplish red; its soft, porous flesh (scattered with black seeds) from light yellow-green to deep golden. Also called prickly pear, this fruit has a melonlike aroma and a sweet but rather bland flavor. It's extremely popular in Mexico, Central and South America, the Mediterranean countries and southern Africa, and is slowly gaining favor in the United States. Cactus pears are available in Latin markets and some specialty produce markets from fall through spring. Choose fruit that gives slightly to palm pressure. It should have a deep, even color. Ripen firm cactus pears at room temperature until soft. Store ripe fruit in the refrigerator for up to a week. Cactus pears are usually served cold, peeled and sectioned with the seeds removed.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.