18. Cactus Pie

There are reasons the pies we are most familiar with have withstood the test of time.  They’re not gimmicky, they’re not trying too hard, and they’re just damn good.

This week’s pie is a definite keeper: although the unique ingredient is at first glance rather odd, the taste is deliciously and solidly classic– while still being unique and remarkable.

Prickly Pear Cactus pears- despined and ready to go.

For this pie, I used prickly pear cactus fruits and bulked up the pie volume with 2 apples when I realized how scant the flesh on the cactus pears was.  The apples added a nice tartness and texture, but the primary flavor was certainly cactus pear.  And it was certainly delicious.

I also reverted to a very thin crust this time.  I think the robustness of a crust needs to echo the robustness of the fillings.  In general small-fruit pies (think berry, grape) do well in a thin, delicate crust.  It doesn’t overwhelm the flavors, and gets a mildly caramelized crisp that really sets off a pie.  In addition, someone drank my crappy “for pie crust only” vodka, so instead for liquid I used soy milk. It turned out splendidly.  I also ended up making far too much (rolling very thin is certainly one way to stretch your pie dough out) and so had a plentiful supply of cinnamon-sugared pastry crisps that got scarfed down happily by my housemates.


  • 6oz flour
  • 3oz butter
  • 1oz crisco
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1Tbsp sugar
  • 1/4tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar

Mix together the dry ingredients– set aside 1 cup in reserve.  Chop up the chilled butter and cut it into the majority of the flour (together with crisco) with either your fingers, a pastry cutter, food processor, or a granny fork.  Stop when the largest pieces of butter are pea-sized.  Mix in the reserved flour briefly.  Stir in the soy milk and vinegar.  This should make a dough that easily sticks together, but is not too wet.

Roll out the dough very thinly (semi-translucent) on a well-floured surface.  A thin, delicate crust frames fruit pie nicely.


  • 4 (or 2 more to replace an apple) cactus pears
  • 1-2 apples
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Take the 4+ cactus pears.  Rinse under water thoroughly, or use an abrasive (such as sand) to remove the fine spines (glochidia).  These will otherwise embed themselves into your hands.  I speak from experience when I say this is rather unpleasant.

Cut each pear in half, and scoop out the core of seeds, leaving what seems a thin layer of flesh attached to the peel. Scrape this flesh into a bowl, removing any major fibers.

You don’t need to throw away the pulp/seeds.  I set them in a pitcher, added some sugar, lemon juice, and lemon slices.  Then I poured in hot water and had a quick and delicious juice (after straining).  I’m sure there are other delicious options (I’ve heard of boiling it down to make a syrup, for instance).

The cactus flesh is fairly fluorescent, making this one of the most ridiculously colored pies ever– especially if you were to up the cactus:apple ratio. If you do, I recommend increasing the amount of lemon juice.

Bulk up the cactus with 2 apples: peeled, cored, and sliced.

A layer of cactus mixture, covered by a layer of apple.

Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Place the mixture into a bottom crust (in a 8inch pan) and then wet the rim of the crust. Place a top crust and seal together the edges.  To finish, trim off the excess by scraping along the pan with the back of a knife; fold over the edge (I found rolling the edge into the pan made an extremely simple and sturdy rim); cut venting slits; and top the crust with sugar.

A healthy sprinkling of sugar on the pie crust before baking sweetens the whole deal.

Wrap the edges in foil or some other pie guard.  Bake the pie at 350F for 30 minutes.  Remove the pie, and get something that looks much like before, except golden brown and tastier smelling.

Mmmm. Cactus Pie.

Let it sit for a few moments to reduce runniness.  Or be like me and ignore that to cut a piece right away.

Thin delicious crust surrounding apples that have absorbed cactus flavor and color, and bursts of semi-solid cactus pulp.

In summary this pie earns my hearty stamp of approval not because it’s super odd… but rather because I can imagine my grandmother serving it.  It’s a new classic, and I’m adding it to my recipe books.


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2 Responses to 18. Cactus Pie

  1. Happy Highway (Now Happy Pie Eater) says:

    In Spanish this pie would be called: “Pay de Tunas Rojas”. This pie looks delicious and it reminds me of Mexico, where they sell the tunas (verdes and rojas) right on the street. They have dozens of peeled tunas sitting on ice blocks out of a wooden cart and you just eat them whole (seeds and all).

    I can’t wait for the “Pay de Guanábana” or the “Pay de Mamey”… just to stay on the latin flavor…

  2. Brittany says:

    Ohhh my goodness, this looks so good!! So unique!

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