Whenever I meet a person who is like a prickly pear, I want to run far, far away.
Whenever I meet a cactus full of prickly pears, I want to run at it with a pair of pliers because EUREKA!, I just found free fruit!
While driving through the hill country a couple weeks ago, my waste-not-want-not mind got to turning each time we passed by a cactus covered in red, plump prickly pears. Here was all this lovely (and free!) fruit going to waste by the roadside and there I was powerless to save it! But even if I did save those prickly pears from going to waste, I wasn’t sure how to use them.
Now, I had heard of prickly pear jelly before, but I had never even tasted the stuff let alone attempted to make it. However, when it comes to free fruit, I am willing to try anything!
Inspired by my highfalutin idea, I begged Dave to pull over on our way home so that I could rescue some fruit…
When dealing with prickly pears, expect to get pricked.
I got pricked several times before I wised up and grabbed a pair of pliers from my trunk.
(Don’t I look like an Indian squaw picking cactus fruit? I felt very Indian.)
The minute we got home, I tossed my bag of treasure in the fridge and began foraging the internet for prickly-pear jelly recipes of which I found a plethora. In the end, I decided to use Root Simple‘s recipe since those people seemed to know what they were doing. Besides, they claimed that their recipe was fool-proof and I just can’t resist those words.
Prickly Pear Jelly: Round One
2 1/2 cups prickly pear juice (*see below)
1/2 cup lemon juice
18 teaspoons pectin
5 cups sugar
Extracting the Juice:
Roughly 4 pounds or 20 prickly pear should render about 2 1/2 cups of juice. Just pick more fruit if you aren’t sure you will have enough juice for a batch.
Choose prickly pears that are plump, firm and bright red. If the fruit is squishy or has any signs of spoilage, leave it for the birds!
Thoroughly rinse the fruit in a large colander.
The recipe suggested holding the fruit over an open flame to burn off the thorns (or glochids), but I did not find this step necessary as most of them washed off during the rinsing. Any remaining glochids were easily scraped off with the blade of a knife.
Cut fruit into quarters, place in a large pot and add just enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.
Allow mixture to cool before pouring through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Gather ends of the cheesecloth and squeeze the last bit of juice from the fruit. Set aside
Fill a clean sink with hot, hot water and add the jars and rings.
In a stockpot, bring prickly pear juice, lemon juice and pectin to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring often to dissolve the pectin.
What does full boil mean? Well, for starters, it does not look like this:
“Full boil” means that the liquid continues to boil even if you stir it. In other words, it should look like this:
Keep juice mixture at full boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Tip: Use a timer!
After 3 minutes, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.
Bring back to a full boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove pot from heat.
Remove jars from the hot water bath and shake off excess water.
Carefully pour the hot jelly into each jar.
Tip: Pouring is easier if you have a canning funnel, but since I don’t own one, I just used a ladle.
With a clean, damp cloth, wipe around the sides and top of each jar rim. If any goo is left on the rim, the jar will not seal properly!
Press a canning lid directly on to the jar and tightly screw on a metal ring. Next, carefully flip the jar over for a few seconds.
This is a trick I learned from the internet and though I’m not sure if this step was really necessary, I had to try it at least once. (The jar sealed like a charm, though!)
Carefully place jars into a large pot of simmering water.
Tip: It is safer to use rubber-lined canning tongs, but since I do not own a pair, a large spoon and a steady hand did just fine.
Allow jars to “process” for 10 minutes before carefully removing them. Set jars on a towel and allow jelly to cool and set for up to 48 hours.
Round One Results
Even before I poured my first round of jelly into the jars, I knew something was wrong. First of all, the boiled liquid was too pale and too viscous. Another problem was that the jelly did not set firm but instead remained loose like honey.
The flavor, however, was outstanding having just the right mixture of sweetness and tartness. While Dave and I were in the hill country, we sampled various fruit “honeys” (a blend of fruit and honey) which had a similar flavor to my not-quite-right jelly. Therefore, I decided to refer to my first batch of jelly as “Prickly Pear Honey.”
Despite the positive turnout, however, I have a couple theories as to why my jelly turned out weird:
Theories As to Why Round One Turned Out Weird:
#1: The Temperature of the Prickly Pear Juice: After cooking the fruit, I cooled the pot and stuck it in the fridge without even straining the contents. Since cactus can get slimy, the mixture was just that when I pulled it from the fridge. And when I tried squeezing the cold excess juice from the fruit, it came oozing out of the cheesecloth like petroleum jelly. As if all this wasn’t enough, I also heated the juice on the stove without letting it come to room temperature first. I think the transition from really-cold to really-hot is what caused the mixture to be so thick and gummy.
#2: The Amount of Pectin: The recipe said to use “18 teaspoons exactly” but when I measured out my box of Sure-Jell, it only contained 16 teaspoons. Even though I had another box of Sure-Jell, I REFUSED to break into it just for a couple measly teaspoons of pectin!
I am a woman of principle, after all!
#3 The Boiling Time: Boiling pectin for 5 minutes total seemed a bit extreme to me. The low-sugar recipe from the same website required only half the cooking time.
I decided that I needed to try making prickly pear jelly again, only THIS time, I would be a perfect angel and follow ALL of the instructions. Thankfully, I discovered a fruit-laden cactus down the street from my house so I pulled out my pliers, picked a second peck of prickly pears and tried again!
Prickly Pear Jelly: Round Two
4 cups prickly pear juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
18 teaspoons low-sugar/no-sugar pectin
3 cups sugar
Mix pectin with 1/4th cup of the sugar and whisk into the prickly pear and lemon juices. Bring mixture to a full boil (stirring constantly) and immediately add the sugar.
Bring to a full boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Repeat canning process as mentioned above.
Round Two Results!
As you can see, there was a dramatic difference between my two jellies:
My second try was more bright in color and more jelly-like in consistency. It also had a more distinct prickly pear flavor.
Textures aside, I am very pleased with both of my prickly pear concoctions.
They are delicious, they are pretty and the fruit with which I made them didn’t cost me a dime! Besides, they will both get gobbled up when all is said and done so I guess you could say I’m one happy “canner!”