I’m home! Back in Oregon, the state that I love and am proud to call home. After a week in Arizona, I am reminded of how much I love Oregon; all of its green and cool mornings. But at the same time, the southern Arizona desert has its own uniquely beautiful landscape, with cacti being the forefront of its painting. We were lucky enough to be there when the prickly pear was thick with ripe fruit, so I decided to take on the task of transforming the spiny lobes into a sweet
jam, jelly, syrup. I just had to share this with you as it was quite an interesting process and perhaps one day you’ll find yourself wanting to spend a thorny day making a tiny amount of sweetness. So here we go:
Step One: Dawning something other than flip-flops, grab a pair of good length tongs and find a prickly pear cactus with ripe fruit, which usually happens mid to late August. We were lucky to have some in the front yard which was a good thing because I read that it is illegal to wander out into the desert to harvest the fruit. Arizona is very protective of its native plants, so if you don’t have any on your property, find a generous neighbor or look at the market.
Step Two: Singe the thorns off of the fruit, which is actually referred to as “tuna” in the Mexican culture. Not only the plant is thorny, the tuna are also very spiny and not something to mess around with. Using tongs and an open flame, roll them around until you are sure that the thorns are burnt off. Once you’ve singed each of them, put them into a bowl with a lid and let them sit for an hour so that the heat steams the skins and makes them easier to peel.
Step Three: Cut off the tops and bottoms of each tuna fruit, then pull off the peel and discard all of that. You will be left with a mass of flesh and rock-hard seeds, all in a beautiful deep magenta color. This is the point in which I decided that I would have to make jelly instead of jam, since there was no good way to separate the flesh from the seeds. Evidently different varieties have more or less stand-alone flesh, so I just had to roll with it. Jelly it would be.
Step Four: Put the tuna in a fine mesh strainer above an empty stock pot and use the back of a spoon to mash the fruit until you mostly have dry seeds left. The seeds are like little pebbles, completely inedible, so discard them once this step is complete.
Step Five: I measured what I had after this tedious amount of processing so far and was graced with just a bit less than a cup of juice. Great. Awesome. Thanks. But I carried on, determined to see this through.
Step Six: I boiled the juice with 1/4 cup sugar and the juice of a whole lemon along with the peel for about 45 minutes. I knew that it would take pectin to turn it into jelly, but I didn’t want to drive to the store for pectin for less than a cup of juice, so I researched it a (tiny) bit and some Pinterest blog said that it would only take the lemon and a long boil to get it to gel. (Insert Pinterest Fail). So at this point my prickly pear jelly aspirations turned into “Well, I’m sure that prickly pear syrup is tasty too.”
Step Seven: Normally this is where I would talk about proper and safe canning technique, but since it was such a small amount we decided to pop it into the fridge and serve it over ice cream for dessert later. It is quite delicious. I’d say it’s flavor is a cross between raspberries, plums and grapes. I was happy to have completed the project and I learned a lot along the way, so if I ever do it again I will have a lot more knowledge. For now though, here is what I would change.
New Step One: Dawn flip flops and grab the car keys.
New Step Three: Enjoy the next 11 hours doing something other than jam making.
Here’s wishing you happy culinary experiences of your own!
PS. I don’t usually go around sporting a swimsuit all day, but somehow, August in Arizona requires it as a daily uniform, so its just what you’re gonna get in these pictures. #hotterthanblazes