“Yum” doesn’t come to mind when most people see a spiny prickly pear cactus.
But visitors to the second annual Superior Prickly Pear Festival on Aug. 24 will learn to peel and eat the plant’s succulent spiked pads, or nopales, and turn its juicy, rosy-purple fruits into juice, syrup, wine, beer and other dishes.
The festival, set in the tiny copper mining town of Superior about 50 miles east of the Valley, will begin with an early-morning hike to Old Pinal City, led by Tonto National Forest archeologist Scott Wood.
Hikers will meet at the Superior Municipal Airport, on U.S. Highway 60, at 6 a.m. for the moderate two-hour walk, which is free. Wood will discuss the colorful history of the once-thriving town of Pinal and how both Native Americans and European settlers utilized the local wild desert plants.
From 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., the Superior Fire Department will dish out a pancake breakfast — with prickly pear syrup — on the patio at Porter’s Cafe, 404 Main St. The requested $6 fee goes to the firefighters.
Chandler beer brewer Pete Rendek and his son, Greg, will lead a three-hour workshop on brewing Prickly Pear India Pale Ale, starting at 9 a.m. at Porter’s. Rendek tailors his program to amateurs who can begin with small batches and a minor investment. The class is limited to 20, and advance reservations are required. To reserve a seat ($25), call Lynn Heglie, festival chairman, at (520) 827-9398.
From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Jerry Temanson of High Desert Vineyard and Winery in Globe will talk about making prickly pear wine. The talk, also at Porter’s Cafe, is free and includes a tasting of prickly pear and pomegranate wines.
The Superior Senior Center, at 734 Main St., will be the hub for foodies interested in taming the plants and those looking to shop for souvenirs.
From 10 a.m. to 11 am., Carolyn Niethammer, a Tucson native foods expert and author of several cookbooks including, “American Indian Cookery,” “Cooking the Wild Southwest” and “The Prickly Pear Cookbook,” will demonstrate three recipes, including a prickly pear and onion relish.
Apache Junction’s Jean Groen will host “You’re Not Going To Eat That, Are You?” at 1 p.m. Groen, who is well known for her prickly pear workshops at Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, will show visitors how to gather and juice the fruit and safely de-spine the pads.
Among the new products offered by vendors this year are hand-painted Southwestern Christmas tree ornaments, contemporary Navajo jewelry, cactus seeds and plants, prickly pear trail mix, popcorn, and prickly pear lip balm. There will also be a wide assortment of candies, jams, soaps and syrups, photographs, notecards, shirts, tote bags and other items.
Each participating restaurant in town will feature at least one prickly pear-based item on its menu for the day, and Mary Josephs, Gilbert’s “Chocolate Lady,” will sell prickly pear chocolate truffles.
Other than the brewing class and the suggested breakfast donation, all talks and events are free. The first 100 visitors will receive a goodie bag containing a prickly pear pad that he or she can plant or prepare as food.
For festival information, call (520) 827-9398 or (520) 689-2210.