If you live in the Sonoran Desert then you know it is time to start collecting prickly pear fruit (tunas) to make juice and jelly. If you aren’t sure how to goabout picking the fruit, here is a quick review:
Harvesting prickly pear fruit
1) Prickly pear fruits have glochids (those tiny nasty spines! ugh!), so you always want to wear gloves and use tongs to pick the fruit off the cactus. If you try to pick the fruit with your bare hands, you’ll be extremely sorry.
2) Collect only ripe red fruit, ones that “weep” juice when you squeeze them with the tongs.
3) Unless you are going into big-time prickly pear jelly production, you won’t need to collect more than a five-gallon bucketful of fruit. Five gallons of unprocessed fruit will make roughly a gallon of juice.
Cleaning and processing
4) Always be aware of those nasty glochids when cleaning the fruit; don’t let them scatter willy-nilly around the kitchen. The neatest way to clean the fruit is to carefully dump it into a sink. Fill the sink with water and swirl the fruit around with the tongs. This will loosen some of the glochids and dirt. Drain the sink and put the fruit – glochids and all – into a large cooking pot.
5) Add about a quart of water in the pot with the fruit and start cooking. As the fruit heats, it releases its juice. Use a sharp knife to pierce the fruit. Boil the fruit slowly for about thirty or forty minutes. At this point you will have a pot full of prickly pear skin, seeds, glochids, and juice. Beautiful.
6) Get a colander, place it over a different pot (to catch the juice), and line the colander with a thickish cotton cloth. I use an old clean t-shirt that I no longer wear. Whatever cloth you use can never be used again, so be sure it’s something you don’t mind throwing away.
7) Carefully – oh so carefully – pour the cooked fruit juice through the cloth in the colander. This is a good time not to make a mess. The juice will pass through the cloth into the pot below, while the fruit pulp remains in the cloth. Make sure not to let the fruit pulp (with those glochids!) contaminate the juice that has been strained through the cloth. You may press the pulp with a spoon to squeeze out as much juice as possible. When you are satisfied that enough juice has been pressed out, carefully – oh so carefully – remove the cloth filled with pulp and discard or compost it. Now you should have a pot with pure deep red cactus juice. Bravo!
8) You can freeze the juice for later culinary adventures or you can immediately start making jelly or syrup. Lots of recipes online. FYI: Prickly pear juice makes an amazingly bright pink cake frosting. It’s also good added to drinks. Some of those drinks could contain alcohol. Just sayin’.