Third annual Superior, Ariz. Prickly Pear Festival scheduled for Aug. 23

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Celebrate the lore, the flavors and the challenges of  gathering Arizona’s iconic prickly pears at the third annual Prickly Pear Festival on Saturday, Aug. 23, in the historic and picturesque old mining town of Superior.

Visitors to the festival, the only all-day event of its kind in the country, will learn to identify the most edible of the hundreds of prickly pears in the state, gather and prepare the luscious purple fruit and the nutritious green pads. Experts will guide visitors in how to turn the pears into tasty  salads, entrées and desserts, brew a light melony pale ale and make wine and mead from the fruit.

Events begin at 6:30 a.m. with a choice of two hikes through prickly pear territory, timed so hikers can return in time to enjoy a sumptuous outdoor breakfast prepared by members of the Superior Fire Department. One of the walks will be a tour of Old Pinal City, led by Tonto National Forest Ranger Scott Wood, an expert on the history of the area and its native foods and people. The second hike, led by Lost Trail steward Bill Vogler, will loop from the Picket Post Trailhead to Arnette Canyon. 

The firemen’s breakfast, on the patio of Porter’s Cafe, on Main Street, will be served from 7 to 11 a.m. and will include ham, eggs, pancakes with prickly pear syrup, juice, milk and coffee-all for a suggested donation of $6. Proceeds benefit the firefighters.

Speakers at the festival include Jean Groen, the cookbook author and famed “cactus lady” who conducts regular programs at the nearby Boyce Thompson Arboretum; Natalie McGee, of the Arizona Cactus Ranch in Green Valley, a nationally known advocate for the amazing health benefits attributed to the plant, and Gabriel Garfio, a young executive chef whose culinary creations at his Mesa restaurant incorporate prickly pears in both traditional Mexican and Native American dishes and today’s Mediterranean diet.

In the potable area, Pete Rendek, Chandler, will repeat his popular three-hour class in brewing prickly pear India pale ale. Globe winemaker Jerry Temanson will talk about making wine from the prickly pear fruit and Randy Childers, of Gold Canyon, will reveal the secrets to making a modern Southwest version of the ancient drink mead from honey and prickly pear fruit. Tasting samples will be available to try all three.

Reservations and a $25 fee are required for the prickly pear ale brewing class; all other festival events are free. Register for the brew class by calling Lynn Heglie, at Porter’s Cafe, 520-827-9398. Spaces are limited.

Desert food specialists, crafters and artists will offer a unique assortment of wares, from prickly pear lip balm, handmade jewelry and photographs to juices, syrups, jams and an array of desert and prickly pear-based products. 

Vendors of goods with a prickly pear tie-in are welcome. For information, call Jean Groen at 480-983-4572. 

Local restaurants will add special items featuring the fruit, or “tunas,” or the pads, “napoles,” to their menus on festival day, and downtown shops will offer discounts to festival goers.

For those who want to arrive early or stay late, the Copper Mountain Motel, on Hwy. 60, is offering discounted stays to guests on both Friday and Saturday nights.

The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (the hikes are earlier) on Main Street in Downtown Superior. The first 100 visitors to register at the Chamber of Commerce office, 165 Main St., will receive a free prickly pear pad. 

Superior is located off Hwy. 60, about an hour east of Phoenix and three miles east of the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. 

The festival is sponsored by the Superior Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the Arboretum.

For schedules, locations and more information, contact  the Chamber at 520-689-0200 or at or on Facebook.

Superior, Ariz., third annual Prickly Pear Festival schedule of events

Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014 Events

• 6:30 a.m. – Hike 1 

Walk to Old Pinal City on a hike through history led by Tonto National Forest Ranger Scott Wood, who will discuss Native American culture and traditional desert foods of the area. Rated moderate. Meet at the airport property on Hwy 60.

• 6:30 a.m. – Hike 2 

Meet at the Picket Post Trailhead, just off Hwy 60,for a one-hour hike to the point where the next section of the Arizona Trail will lead into Arnette Canyon. Led by Bill Vogler, a Lost Trail steward. Rated moderate.

Wear sturdy shoes and bring sunscreen and plenty of water for both hikes!

• 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Superior Fire Department hosts a pancake breakfast on the patio at Porter’s Cafe on Main Street. Ham, eggs, pancakes, with prickly pear syrup, juice, milk and coffee, all for a suggested donation of $6. All proceeds benefit the firefighters.

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Vendors will offer prickly pear products. There will be juices, lotions, dried and fresh desert foods, unusual items like prickly pear lip balm, from Desert Gatherings, Cheri’s Desert Harvest and many more, plus craft items, artwork, photos, cookbooks, jams and juices at the Superior Chamber of Commerce building, 165 Main St.

• 9 a.m. to noon – Prickly Pear India Pale Ale brewing class at Porter’s Cafe. Chandler home brewer Pete Rendek returns for another of his popular classes in brewing a delightful light beer with a pink cast and a fresh cucumbery flavor. The class is limited to 25 people. There is a $25 fee and participants must register in advance by calling Lynn Heglie, at Porter’s Cafe, 520-827-9398.

• 11 a.m. – Making wine from “tunas”, the fruit of the prickly pear. Globe winemaker Jerry Temanson can make wine from almost any fruit, but will share his fondness for this new wine, and the process, at a free talk at Porter’s Cafe. Samples will be available for tasting.

• 1 p.m. – Making mead from prickly pears. This ancient drink gets a modern Southwest twist from Randy Childers, who’s made home-made beer for 20 years and has expanded to brewing mead from desert honey, prickly pear juice and a few more ingredients. Learn how from this Gold Canyon expert. The talk, at Porter’s Cafe, is free and samples of the finished product, after a year of aging, will be available for tasting.

• 10 a.m. – Harvesting and preparation of tunas and nopales, the fruit and pads of the cacti. Jean Groen, the renowned cookbook author and desert food expert who draws huge crowds to her demonstrations at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, and her assistant, Robert Lewis, will show how to safely gather, de-spine and prepare the plants for juicing or use in salads, grilled entrees, desserts and more. The talk, in the Superior Senior Center, 360 Main St., is free.

• Noon – Can prickly pear be effective in treating diabetes, bladder problems and obesity?

Natalie McGee, founder and owner of the Arizona Cactus Ranch in Green Valley, thinks so. McGee was an early convert to the health benefits of prickly pears. She has appeared in national media, including a segment of the Dr. Oz show, and will discuss the growing appreciation in the medical community for the plant’s wide health benefits. McGee will speak at the senior center.

• 2 p.m. – Gabriel Garfio, executive chef at the Sunnyside Breakfast Lounge, in Mesa, includes traditional Mexican and Native American prickly pear dishes on his menus at the restaurant as well as their use in the popular contemporary Mediterranean diet. Learn how to prepare and use this versatile plant in delicious modern dishes. The free talk will be in the senior center.

All day, visitors can enjoy  and menu specials at local restaurants featuring prickly pears. 

The Copper Mountain Motel, on Hwy. 60, is offering a discount for Friday or Saturday night stays for festival goers. Call 520-689-2886 for reservations.

Contact the Superior Chamber of Commerce, 520-689-0200, or

John Hernandez (349 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.

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