“Yum” is not the first word that comes to mind when most people view a hardy, spiny prickly pear plant.
But visitors to the Second Annual Superior Prickly Pear Festival on Aug. 24 will learn to peel and eat the succulent spiny pads, or nopales, or turn the juicy rosy-purple fruits into juice, syrup, wine, beer and all sorts of tasty main and side dishes.
The festival, set in the old copper mining town of Superior, is the only one of its kind in the country and celebrates all things prickly pear.
The event, sponsored by the Superior Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, will begin with an early-morning hike to Old Pinal City led by Tonto National Forest Archeologist Scott Wood. The hike is free. Meet at the Superior Municipal Airport, on Highway 60, at 6 a.m. for the moderate two-hour walk. Wood will discuss the colorful history of the once thriving mining town and how both Native Americans and European settlers utilized the local wild desert plants .
From 8 to 10 a.m., the Superior Fire Department will be dishing out a pancake breakfast – with prickly pear syrup – on the patio at Porter’s Cafe, 404 Main St.. A donation of $6 is requested for the breakfast, with all proceeds going to the firefighters.
Chandler brewer Pete Rendek and his son, Greg, will lead a three-hour morning workshop on brewing a unique Prickly Pear India Pale Ale, starting at 9 a.m. 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. There is a fee of $25 per participant. To reserve a place, call Lynn Heglie, festival chairman, at 520-827-9398.
From 1 to 2 p.m., Jerry Temanson, of High Desert Vineyard and Winery in Globe, will talk of the fun -and problems- of making prickly pear wine. The talk, at Porter’s Cafe, is free and includes a tasting of a country prickly pear and pomegranate wine.
The Superior Senior Center, at 734 Main St. will be the hub for foodies interested in taming the spiny, prickly plants. From 10 to 11 am., Carolyn Niethammer, the Tucson native foods expert and author of several bestselling cookbooks including “American Indian Cookery,” “Cooking the Wild Southwest” and “The Prickly Pear Cookbook,” will demonstrate three new recipes, including a prickly pear and onion relish.
“You’re Not Going To Eat That, Are You?” is the title of native food doyen Jean Groen’s entertaining talk, beginning at 1 pm. Groen, well known to fans who pack her prickly pear workshops at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, will show visitors how to gather and juice the fruit, or tunas, and safely de-spine the pads for use in a variety of nutritious and delicious salads and desserts.
Both Niethammer and Groen will sign copies of their cookbooks after their talks.
Among the new products offered by vendors this year are hand-painted Southwestern Christmas tree ornaments, contemporary Navaho jewelry, and cactus seeds and plants, prickly pear trail mix and popcorn, prickly pear lip balm and a huge variety of desert products from Desert Gatherings.
Cheri’s Desert Harvest, Tucson, will again have a wide assortment of native plant candies, jams, soaps and syrups.
Craftspeople will offer prickly pear-themed photographs, notecards, camp shirts, tote bags, throw pillows and other items for sale from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Senior Center.
Each participating restaurant in town will feature at least one prickly pear-based item on its menu for the day, and Mary Joseph, the “Chocolate Lady,” will be selling her famous 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. A limited quantity of freshly-picked prickly pear fruits will be available for sale.
For festival information, call Lynn Heglie, event chairman, at 520-827-9398, or Sherry Figdore, 520-689-2210 or 520-483-6696. For vendor information, call Karen Barker, 928-792-8238.