How do you get that red color in the picture? You can’t do it with watermelon. Berries perhaps. But that red in a margarita glass announces its true heritage: prickly pear cactus.

Prickly pears arrive in farmers’ markets in the southwest in late summer. It can take until now for the trucks to make it up north to our own supermarkets. Prickly pears are species of cactus and native to the United States. The fruit is so delicious that they have been spread around the world. They even, somehow, are growing them in British Columbia. In Australia, they are now considered a weed and the cause of environmental damage. If the Aussies drank less beer and more margaritas…

I’ve been tempted to plant one up here. Seeing a prickly pear cactus poking through the snow of the Catskills is probably asking a bit too much.

Describing the flavor of the fruit has proved to be a challenge. People respond with “berry flavored.” Or fig, or watermelon, or just delicious. I find them berry-like but certainly sweetly distinctive.

This recipe is for one prickly pear margarita and calls for using prickly pear syrup. Okay, you can buy some syrup, and Suzen and I have. Some are good, some are Monsanto. And even the good ones have color issues. If you want fresh syrup with this intense red color, you need to make your own.

A good recipe for syrup is just below. After you peel your fresh prickly pear, you may find a layer underneath that does not seem fruit-like; about 1/8 inch thick, this membranous tissue wraps around the true fruit. Just peel it away before making the actual syrup.

To start a festive holiday meal, a bright red cocktail can be inspiring. If you are stuffing your turkey with tamales, then here’s the perfect beverage for the whole meal.

Prickly Pear Margarita

Yield: 1 drink


  • Sugar
  • Reserved lime peel from juicing
  • 2 ounces white tequila
  • 2 ounces prickly pear syrup
  • 1 ounce Mandarin Napoleon liquor
  • Juice of 1 lime


Juice the lime. Using the lime peel, rub around the edge of your glass until it is wet. Then turn the glass upside down and place into a layer of sugar, yes sugar and not salt. Twist until the rim is coated and then fill the glass with shaved ice.

Place all the beverage ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until very cold.

Pour into the prepared glass and enjoy.

Unlike my standard margarita recipe, there is no sugar syrup added here. That’s already subversively appeared via the prickly pear syrup!

Prickly Pear Syrup

Yield: 1 cup


  • 4 medium to large size prickly pears
  • ¼ cup simple syrup
  • Juice of one lime


Peel the prickly pears. Then remove the membrane. Quarter the fruit and place into a blender. Process at high speed for 2 minutes. Pour the contents through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. You should have approximately 1 cup of liquid. The fruit has many seeds. The blender will have disintegrated most of them but sieving will remove any remaining seeds that are whole plus any large fragments.

Add the sugar syrup and lime juice. Stir to blend. Taste test and adjust for sweetness or tartness as you prefer. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Besides margaritas, the syrup is a syrup and can go on ice cream, in salad dressing, on top of grilled lamb chops …

Source: Brian O’Rourke