Desert Harvest

Prickly pear jelly, candy, syrup, and drinks have a gorgeous color and taste, but first you have to get past the prickles.

Once a year the dry and desolate desert explodes in a sea of color.  Saguaros dawn a crown of white, barrels are topped with rings of orange, and the prickly pear pads hold up dozens of yellow cups.  After the flowers have fallen and have long been forgotten, they are replaced by cactus fruit.

The plump magenta bulbs/pears that are the prickly pear fruit are sought after by javelina, desert tortoises, and humans alike.  The fruit has a smell and taste similar to watermelon, but yet completely different. Once you taste it you quickly understand why this annual treat is so anticipated by desert dwellers.

Prickly Pear Treats

Step one to making any prickly pear item is either buying the fruit at the grocery store or collecting the fruit yourself.  Remember, pick at your own risk! Many varieties of prickly pear have thousands of hair-thin stickers that can fly in the air when disturbed.  Using long handled tongs and wearing long sleeves are important to keep you sticker free. Ripe fruit will fall off the cactus with very little effort.  (It takes about 25-30 fruit to make 2-3 cups of juice)

There are several theories floating around the internet about the best way to “de-sticker” the fruit.  The one that we tried and thought worked well was putting it all in a sink full of water and knocking them around with a paint stick.  We did this several times, draining the water in between each rinsing session. This seemed to get rid of about 90% of the stickers.

After removing most of the thorns, you will need to decide how you want to extract the inner fruit from the skin.  We tried 2 different ways, both seemed to work equally well, but one was much easier than the other.  

Method #1- Slice off both ends of the fruit and then cut it in half.  Using a knife or spoon, scoop out the inner fruit.

Method #2- Throw the entire fruit into a pot and heat it over medium-high heat.  Use a potato masher to squish the fruit until it is soft and most of it has separated from the skin.

After you prepare your fruit using one of the above methods, run it through a food mill (also known as a potato ricer).  Just to make sure no thorns snuck through, we placed our ricer on top of a sieve that we lined with cheesecloth. Make sure your straining setup is sitting over a large enough bowl to accommodate your juice.  You can either let gravity do its job and watch the juice slowly drip, or you can use a spatula to gently push the juice out of the paste. Now you have your pretty purple prickly pear juice!

Prickly Pear Jelly

This jelly is a refreshing alternative to what you are probably used to.  It is great on sandwiches, pancakes, ice cream, and many other things!

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups prickly pear juice
  • 3 tbls lemon juice
  • 1 package pectin (I only use the powdered kind)
  • 3 ½ cups sugar
  • 3 pint jelly jars

Prepare your jelly jars by boiling the lids and jars and setting them aside.  In a saucepan, bring juices and pectin to a boil. Add sugar and bring to a rolling boil (it’s rolling when you can stir it but it continues to boil).  Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off the skin that will have formed on the top. Pour jelly mixture into prepared jars, stopping about ¼” from the top.  Replace the lid and put filled jars in a boiling water bath for 5-10 minutes. The jars should “pop” a few minutes after removing them from the water.

Prickly Pear Syrup

The syrup can be used in place of maple or fruit syrup.  It is also great as an addition to margaritas or lemonade.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup prickly pear juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbls lemon juice
  • 2 pint jelly jars
  • Prepare your jelly jars by boiling the lids and jars and setting them aside.  In a saucepan, bring prickly pear juice and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved and the mixture just starts to simmer.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Fill prepared jelly jars with mixture and place filled jars into a boiling water bath for 5-10 minutes.  The jars should “pop” a few minutes after removing them from the water.

    Be sure to visit our Cacti Creations Pinterest board for these and other Prickly Pear Recipes!

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