Prickly pear season isn’t over quite yet, so why not make your own prickly pear jelly? It’s exciting to make something you can eat from ingredients you can forage from native desert plants.
Prickly pears are one of the most unique, edible plants in the Sonoran Desert. They contain vitamins and nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C. They’re a great source of antioxidants and are good for your immune system.
You can tell prickly pears, also known as tuna, are ready to harvest when they turn dark red. You don’t want to get stuck by them, so use precaution and proper equipment when handling them.
Start by gathering your equipment:
- Puncture-proof gloves (leather work gloves will work)
- Large plastic or metal container
- Wear closed-toe shoes for extra protection around the plants
Using a pair of tongs, grab the entire piece of fruit and twist it to pull it off the pad. Be careful to avoid direct contact with the fruit. Gather about a gallon to make a small batch of jelly.
Now it’s time to clean the fruit. A great way to get rid of the nasty prickles is to use your tongs to hold them over a high heat source, like a flame. Next, transfer them to a sink filled with water. Hold the fruit with your tongs while scrubbing it with a vegetable brush, then rinse—place in a clean bowl.
You’ll have to extract the juice from the prickly pear to make jelly. Wearing your gloves, cut both ends from the fruit and slice them in half. Place them in a deep pot with about an inch of water. Cook on low to medium heat and stir often so they don’t burn. The fruit will begin to release liquid, eventually reaching the top of the prickly pears.
Remove from the heat and smash the cooked fruit with a potato masher. When it cools, scoop all the fruit and juice into a sieve or colander lined with a couple of sheets of damp cheesecloth and place over a saucepan to collect the juice. This will filter out any remaining prickles left, along with the skin and seeds. You can give the cheesecloth a little squeeze, but your juice will be cloudy if you squeeze too much.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make your jelly:
- 2 ½ cups prickly pear cactus juice
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 box powdered pectin, or 18 teaspoons (Note: not all pectin brands contain the same amount in a box, so be sure to measure)
Combine the prickly pear juice, lemon juice, and pectin in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to a hard boil for 3 minutes (hard boil is when liquid continues to boil even while you stir it.)
Add the sugar and bring it back to a hard boil for another 2 minutes, or until the jell point is reached. (Read HERE for an explanation of how to test jell point.)
You could eat your jelly right away, but you’ll probably be better off canning it. This lets you savor it over time or give it as a gift to your friends and family.
For proper canning instructions, please click HERE for expert advice.
If you give some as gifts, you could tie a wood jelly spoon or knife to the jar. Or give it with a delicious loaf of artisan bread. You can pick some up at Good Living Greens on Parkview or the Fountain Hills Farmers Market on the Avenue.
Making prickly pear jelly is a labor of love, but the results are delicious.