Prickly pears, also known as cactus figs or nopales, are the spiny fruits of the Opuntia cactus. Usually purple or yellow in color, prickly pears are a common ingredient in southwestern and Mexican cooking. Prickly pears customarily ripen in the fall, with the best fruits in season September through November. Once prickly pears are ripe, they should be eaten within a week to preserve the best texture and flavor, although peeled prickly pear flesh can be frozen for later use. To determine its ripeness, handle the pear using protective gloves.
Put on gloves to protect yourself from the prickly pear's spines (both the large smooth spines and the small, hairlike needle spines).
Choose a prickly pear with unbroken outer skin.
Press down on the prickly pear's flesh – it should yield slightly under your touch.
Dispose of prickly pears that feel mushy, as they are overripe and past their prime.