Barrel Cactus Fruit and Lemon Combine for Tangy Winter Treat

Barrel cactus fruit and lemons are tasty winter companions.

When I look back at the many blog posts we Savor Sisters have written over the years, frequently there are recipes including barrel cactus at this time of year. In a season where most other plants are resting and waiting out the cold desert nights, barrel cactus are providing glowing yellow fruit in abundance. January is also the season for citrus in the Southwest and there is no shortage of delicious baking recipes using lemon.

It’s Carolyn today and I’m going to modify a lemon recipe I’ve made a couple of times during the pandemic, a time many of us were amusing ourselves with baked goods. The original recipe starts with lemon, but I’m adding poached lemon-y barrel cactus fruit along with the crunchy seeds to make more of a good thing. However, you can making this recipe the super-easy way by just using the barrel cactus seeds and skipping the poached fruit topping. Suit yourself. In any case, you’ll end up with something delicious.  The recipe includes turmeric, a spice that has healthful properties. I’m not sure I can taste it, but it adds a bright yellow color that psychologically enhances the lemon flavors as we taste with our eyes as well as our mouth.

Preparing the Barrel Cactus Seeds and Slices

It is easiest to get the seeds by gathering your cactus fruit in advance. Halve the fruit and put it out in the sun. Once the fruit is dry, the seeds release more easily.  Now for the fruit topping. (You can skip this if you wish.) Choose four of the best barrel cactus fruit halves. Scoop out the seeds as well as you can and add to the others that are drying. Using your sharpest knife, slice the fruit as thinly as possible. Try to get about 36 slices. Put the slices in a small frying pan, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain, return to the pan, add two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of sugar. Simmer for about a minute, remove slices and dry on a sheet of waxed paper. 

Slice the fruit thinly and rinse off the seeds, catching them in a sieve. Don’t clog your drain!

Some time during the 2000s, I began to learn about lining baking pans with parchment paper to help release cakes and breads. It takes extra time but does help with sticking. 

Consider lining your baking pan with parchment paper. When positioning your candied cactus fruit, lay the pieces crosswise to help in slicing.

Lemon Barrel Cactus Cake

Nonstick cooking spray or oil for greasing pan

1½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons barrel cactus seeds

¾ teaspoon ground turmeric

2 lemons

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

¾ cup  Greek yogurt

2 large eggs, beaten

½ cup (1 stick), melted

36 (or so) candied barrel cactus slices

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 4-by-9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter, and line it with parchment, leaving some overhang on both of the longer sides so you’re able to easily lift the cake out after baking.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and turmeric in a large bowl.
  3. Grate 2 tablespoons zest from 2 lemons into a medium bowl. Halve the zested lemons and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice into a small bowl.  You’ll have extra juice, so save the remainder for another use.
  4. Add 1 cup sugar to the lemon zest in the medium bowl; rub together with your fingertips until the sugar is fragrant and tinted yellow. Whisk in the Greek yogurt, beaten eggs and the 2 tablespoons lemon juice until well blended.
  5. Using a spatula, add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just to blend. Fold in the melted butter. Stir in the barrel cactus seeds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Arrange barrel cactus slices on top if using and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
  6. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. (If the loaf is getting too dark, lay a piece of foil on top to prevent burning.) Let cool before slicing.

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Want more recipes using wild foods of the Southwest? You’d find ideas for collecting and using 23 easily recognized and gathered desert foods in Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Foods. If you are interested in prickly pear, The Prickly Pear Cookbook will teach you how to gather pads and fruits and turn them into tasty treats. Just click on the titles for more information. You can learn more about me on my website.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Barrel Cactus Fruit and Lemon Combine for Tangy Winter Treat

  1. Again, this is really cool to see that someone makes use of such fruits. I just recently acquired pieces of pitahaya, which is sort of a fad right now. I know I should be pleased with them; but I have not bee impressed with the fruit yet. I am told it will be better from the garden than from the store, but I am not convinced. I intend to grow prickly pear as well, because I already know that I like some of them. I have not yet experienced barrel cactus fruit.

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