Superior Prickly Pear Festival celebrates region’s plump desert bounty - East Valley Tribune: Events

Superior Prickly Pear Festival celebrates region’s plump desert bounty

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Posted: Friday, August 24, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:09 am, Fri Aug 24, 2012.

For a tiny copper mining town in the Arizona desert, Superior has been known for a lot over the years.

It’s where, according to local legend, Apache warriors rode their horses off the craggy heights of Apache Leap rather than surrender to U.S. Cavalry troops. The cries of their loved ones soaked the ground with Apache tears — shiny bits of obsidian that can still be found there today.

A figure from Wyatt Earp’s Tombstone days — the spurned Mattie Blaylock — is buried thereabouts, at the old Pinal City site of the 1880s.

More recently, Hollywood production companies have shot the films “How The West Was Won,” “U-Turn” and “Eight Legged Freaks” there.

Now Superior is celebrating a new distinction it’s edging in on: prickly pear capital of Arizona. The Superior Prickly Pear Festival is Aug. 25.

Prickly pear cactus grows abundantly in the desert surrounding the town, and its deep red fruits, which ripen in August and September, can be used to make a variety of foods.

Nearby Boyce Thompson Arboretum has been a hot spot the past few years for home cooks learning to utilize the garnet “pears.” Close to 2,000 people have attended how-to classes there by Arizona author Jean Groen, according to park spokesman Paul Wolterbeek. Attendance grows with every session.

“Superior is the place for prickly pear because we’re told by the arboretum here that we have some of the finest in the state. We don’t know if it’s the soil or what, but even Jean, the expert, says it’s the reddest and the plumpest she’s ever seen. It’s just a primo place for prickly pear,” says Lynn Heglie, festival organizer.

Festivities begin at 6 a.m. at Superior Airport, where Tonto National Forest ranger Scott Wood will lead a free hike through the prickly pear to Pinal City, a ghost town passersby on U.S. Highway 60 rarely even realize is there.

Hikers can replenish their energies back in town at Porter’s Cafe, where, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Superior Fire Department will serve a pancake breakfast, sweetened, of course, with prickly pear syrup.

Porter’s will then host Groen for a 10:30 a.m. workshop on using the fruits in the kitchen. It’s free.

Another free cooking demo and talk, by cookbook author Carolyn Niethammer, takes place 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Superior Senior Center. There, 12-15 vendors will display and sell their goods.

“We’ve got everything from wine tasting to prickly pear cookbooks,” says Heglie.

Chocolates by M. Josephs, a Gilbert maker of prickly pear truffles, will be there, too.

Meanwhile, restaurants in town will feature prickly pear-based items on their lunch menus, making a mini culinary tour a chief attraction.

Jade Grill will serve prickly pear and ginger glazed egg rolls with a prickly pear-ginger sauce. Available from noon to 2 p.m., they’ll cost $5 for three eggrolls. Jade owner Lucy Wing will also offer a prickly pear barbecue pork sandwich.

Cafe Piedra Roja will serve tacos with prickly pear salsa. You can taste nopalitos (the green pad of the cactus) in various forms at La Serna General Store (appetizers), Los Hermanos Cafe (red chile nopalitos) and Casa Denogean (nopalitos with red chile and eggs).

Felicia’s Ice Cream shop will top cones with homemade prickly pear syrup or add it to vanilla shakes. Porter’s will pour prickly pear margaritas.

If you go

What: Superior Prickly Pear Festival

When: 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 25

Where: At various sites in Superior, about 45 miles east of the East Valley on U.S. Highway 60. Porter’s Cafe is at 404 Main Street. Superior Airport is just off U.S. Highway 60 as you enter town from the west; look for the sign.

Cost: Most events are free; a $6 donation is requested for the pancake breakfast.

Information: (520) 689-0200 or

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