It’s one thing to debunk the story of the horsecrippler cactus Echinocactus texensis getting the nickname “candy cactus” because it was used for making candy. The real test is to see if horsecrippler cactus fruit juice adds any significant flavor to an existing sweets recipe. To that end, the Czarina, our old friend Mila, and I became probably the first humans on the planet to try horsecrippler cactus ice cream.
Truth be told, it wasn’t that big a deal. The reality is that while the cactus fruit juice made an excellent colorant, the juice had almost no flavor on its own. When submerged in ice cream ingredients, the only way to tell the difference between it and commercial food coloring was that the slightest aftertaste of fruit kept appearing while eating it. Even after letting it set in the freezer overnight, the final ice cream was a novelty, but had no particular reason to make it again other than for that novelty. It might be possible to get about 50 pounds of fruit, puree and press it for the juice, and then reduce the juice into a syrup, but there’s no real guarantee that the syrup would be distinctive other than for the novelty, either. Worse, to get that amount of fruit requires a commercial growing operation, and the fact that horsecripplers need about 20 to 40 years of growth before they bloom pretty much kills that market before it starts.
It wasn’t a complete loss. If nothing else, I can state with authority that if anybody tried to make candy from horsecrippler fruit, it was purely as an option to fend off starvation or scurvy. I can also state that horsecrippler fruit puree makes a very handy alternative mix for henna tattoos, Easter egg dyes, and countertop refinishing kits. I’m now tempted to take the last of the fruit still on the cactus, slice it into quarters, drop it into 750ml bottles of vodka, and give these out for holiday presents when they’ve finished steeping. But for a new taste sensation? We’ll try it again with prickly pear when those fruit ripen at Halloween.