Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Well, next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue?
Kipling didn’t actually write about the prickly pear in his 1894 book, The Jungle Book, on which the fanciful movie was based (at least I couldn't find anything...).
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.
Five o'clock seems early for going round anything but, in reality, it is sage advice. Here in the Sonoran Desert, prickly pears ripen in mid-to-late summer when temperatures are warm even in the early morning hours.
Prickly pear cactus,
Yellow blossoms in the wild.
Beauty, shelter, food.
Last weekend, I went out early - maybe not at 5:00 in the morning - and picked about 3 pounds of prickly pears in our neighborhood. There are so many that I barely made a dent in the harvest, leaving plenty for the coyotes, javelinas, rabbits, or whatever might eat them... I doubt we have any bears at our low altitude.
The blossom of the prickly pear is gorgeous, and its fruits are quite beautiful, too. Yet, devoid of either, the plants themselves are fascinating botanical architecture. When Olivarez refers to them as shelter, I think of the many critters than live among and below them, and, among them, try not to envision the rattlesnakes.
Not having Baloo's claws, I use tongs to harvest them, putting them in a paper bag that I can throw away. Some people take a creosote branch to brush away some of the glochids first, but by using tongs I find that unnecessary.
Each pound of ripe fruit yields a little less than 1 cup of juice. When is a fruit ripe? When it is tugged from the plant, it comes off easily and the base of the fruit oozes deep purple-pink juice. If it is green - or even light pink - it isn't ripe.
When I first saw prickly pear lemonade, syrup, or jelly, I thought it must be the most chemically produced substance on earth. There was no way such a color could be natural.
3 1/2 pounds prickly pear fruit, to yield 3 cups juice
1/2 cup strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
1.75 ounces powdered pectin
5 cups sugar
To extract the juice from the fruit, the easiest and (literally) painless way to do it, is to freeze the fruit for several days. First wash the fruit in running water then, using tongs, place in a stainless steel bowl and place in freezer for at least two days.
The day before you plan to make the jelly, remove the fruit and place it in a cloth-lined colander and let it thaw. Set the colander in a glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl to catch the juice. Once thawed, the fruit will break down and you can press on the solids with the back of a stainless steel spoon to extract the juice. To speed the process, you can gather the ends of the fabric together and, using rubber gloves to avoid the glochids, squeeze all the juice from the fruit. You will need three cups of juice for the recipe.
In a large pot, mix 3 cups prickly pear juice, 1/2 cup strained lemon juice, and the pectin; bring to a rapid boil, stirring constantly. Add in the sugar and continue stirring until it returns to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard for 4 minutes, stirring to keep it from boiling over, then pour into sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.