Gifts From The Desert Aug 1990

In a short time your prickly pear cactus fruits (seed pods) will be turning red, falling off, and generally becoming a mess. Why not pick them and make some cactus jelly and cactus juice - it is not very hard, and they taste great! David Eppele, President of Arizona Cactus & Succulent Research, Inc., a botanical garden in Bisbee, AZ shares his recipes with us.

To pick the fruit, use kitchen tongs, and be very careful because they have tiny spines on them. Gather and wash a bucket or grocery sack of the fruit. Use the tongs to transfer the fruits into a large kettle, add about an inch of water, and cover. Boil the fruit gently until it is softened - about 45 minutes. After it starts to cook, mash with a potato masher to make sure each fruit is broken open. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes until all of the fruit is tender. Pour the fruit and juice into a cloth bag or strain it through several thicknesses of cheesecloth. Any small spines, the seeds, and the skin will remain in the cloth. This makes great food for birds, pigs, or chickens, by the way.

Now you have about a gallon of cactus juice. To make never-fail prickly pear jelly, boil 4 cups of juice along with powdered pectin. Add 5 or 6 cups of sugar and bring to a boil. You may add a little lemon juice for an interesting taste. Pour the liquid into sterilized jelly jars and seal them with melted paraffin or cap the jelly jars and put them in the freezer. That's all there is to it. When you send off your gifts to friends, stick in a jar of cactus jelly and they will be most grateful!

To make cactus juice, store the pure juice of the prickly pear fruit in freezer containers. At Arizona Cactus, the juice is frozen in plastic soda bottles. When ready to make the juice, thaw it, pour into a gallon jar, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice and three cups of sugar. Then fill the jar with water. Delicious!

Carolyn Gruenhagen
August, 1990