I've lived in Texas for 21 years and, as of this weekend, 11 of those years have been in west Texas. In those 21 years, I cannot tell you how many prickly pear cacti I've seen. Only within the last few years did I learn that both the fruit and the cactus pad are edible (for humans). And earlier this week, I got to help pick and process fresh prickly pear fruit for the first time in my life!
Some of my friends own a good chunk of land that is bursting with prickly pears. They've harvested and processed several batches, and this week invited me to come along and pick with them.
It was so much fun! For this gal who is much better at driving to the grocery store than growing or hunting her own food, there was something so invigorating about harvesting produce from the earth's bounty. I felt industrious and accomplished. And the juice I brought home seems all the more special because it was mine and my friends' hands who picked, chopped, boiled, mashed, and strained the fruit that produced it.
So today I bring you a prickly pear photo story / instructions for making your own prickly pear juice. At the bottom, I'll provide some ideas for ways to use prickly pear juice.
1. Gather up your tools. For harvesting, you'll need bucket(s) and long-handled tongs. Sturdy rubber gloves will also come in handy (no pun intended). For processing, you'll need a rake (like you use to rake leaves), at least two large pots, cutting board and knife, a colander, a potato masher, a ladle, a funnel with a strainer (or a funnel plus a small fine strainer), and jars to hold and store the juice.
2. Use the tongs to pick the fruit. Look for fruit that is darker in color--deep purpley red more so than bright pink.
3. Fill up as many buckets as your heart desires. Each gallon of fruit will yield roughly a gallon of juice.
4. I didn't get a picture of this step. To remove the small hair-like prickles from the fruit, dump them in batches onto your lawn. Use a rake to rake over them, jumble them up, etc. The idea is to knock most of the prickles off the fruit in the process. Some people recommend removing the prickles by burning them off with propane, but that sounds quite complicated. Also, just know that you're probably not going to get ALL of the prickles off. So wearing gloves in the next steps will result in fewer prickles going into your hands. Return the fruit to a bucket, trying to minimize the amount of grass and dirt that wind up mixed in with the fruit.
5. Rinse off the fruit, and cut it in half long-ways. Isn't it purty?
6. Fill up a pot with the halved fruit, then add enough water to just cover the fruit.
7. Bring to a boil over high heat, then boil for 10 minutes.
8. Toward the end of the 10 minutes of boiling, use a potato masher to mash up the fruit
9. Place a colander over a second large pot, and pour the fruit/water/juice into the colander. (As you can see, we used a large bucket since all of our pots were full of fruit.)
10. Use the potato masher to press the fruit well, squeezing out as much juicy goodness as possible. Discard the solids. You'll end up with some seeds in your juice; that's okay because we're about to strain them out.
11. Use a ladle and funnel (and fine strainer) to transfer juice into jars while straining out the seeds. If you plan to use the juice right away, feel free to fill each jar to the brim. However, if you plan to can or freeze the juice, be sure to leave about an inch at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.
So! Now for some ideas on what to do with the 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice currently hanging out in my fridge and freezer.
- Frozen treats like sorbet and popsicles
- Today for breakfast I made Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup (recipe coming soon!).
- Various prickly pear-infused beverages, whether spiked or not. I've tasted prickly pear lemonade, and am told the juice is also excellent in iced tea, margaritas, and mimosas.
- Smoothies--paired with fruits like orange and banana
- Glazed roasted pheasant from this site (could easily be made with chicken or Cornish game hens)
- Salad dressing
- I found a wealth of prickly pear juice recipes on Yummly. Two of the recipes there that most intrigue me are the Prickly Pear Lemon Bars and the Coconut Tarts with Prickly Pear Sauce.