the chollas are budding! cholla buds used to be a staple crop for desert people. oliver and i harvested & processed about 3 lbs in about an hour off just a few plants.
we used tongs and a bucket to gather the plump buds.
then we dumped them in the special box damian built for this purpose. it’s hardware cloth (wire mesh) on the bottom raised an inch off the ground. we raked the buds over the mesh vigorously for a few minutes. the barbs of the spines get caught in the mesh and dislodge. any spines left are safe to touch because the barbs have mostly rubbed off.
some sources say to boil first to ease the removal of the rest of the spines, but last year we decided it’s best to remove all remaining spines by hand before boiling because they get a bit slimy once you cook them.
i haven’t boiled them yet. last year we boiled them for 15 minutes to remove the tannin. they are delicious as is with some butter, salt & lemon. this year we are going to experiment with drying & fermenting too. apparently native peoples would dry them and use them all year.
reanna wrote a great post about harvesting cholla last year.
and here’s some great cholla info including recipes: http://www.tocaonline.org/ciolim.html
update 7/20/14 after much experimenting our favorite way to eat cholla buds (aside from freshly boiled as a side dish) is grinding dried buds into a powder and thickening soups and sauces with it. we discovered that if you are making a powder, it’s not necessary to hand pluck the last spines off (the most labor intensive step) just rake over hardware cloth, dehydrate, and grind.