8.22.2015

Prickly Pear Prose & Poetry Post

If you were a bear, living in our desert, you might eat prickly pears right off the plant... carefully, as Baloo taught Mowgli in Disney's The Jungle Book.

Baloo sings:
     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?


video


Kipling didnt 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...).

However, T.S. Eliot did write about the prickly pear in his work, The Hollow Men. In section three he writes of being in a "dead land" and a "cactus land." Section five begins:
     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.

Juan Olivarez seems to say it best, and most succinctly, in his 17-syllable haiku:
     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.

Warning: Prickly pear fruits do hurt if you touch them. Some parts hurt a lot, like its big thorns, and other parts hurt a little and annoy more, like the seemingly innocuous hair-like glochids on each fruit.

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.

Well, guess what? I was wrong. It is natural, and it is very tasty. Today, I am making jelly. Maybe I will make some syrup this summer, too, as it is good over pancakes. And the juice is great in prickly pear margaritas!

~ David

Prickly Pear Jelly

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.

Process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool. If lids don't "pop," keep jelly refrigerated; no "pop" indicates an incomplete seal.

Makes about 7 half pints.



34 comments:

  1. This was such fun to read and the prickly pear jelly looks so elegant!
    When preparing this, I'll definitely listening to the the Baloo song to get into the mood.

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    1. I was humming it for days after I wrote the post, Daniela! Do you get good prickly pears in Vienna?

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  2. Wow, so you harvest these from a desert near your home?!?!?!!?

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    1. Liz- these grow all around our home - we don't have to go far to harvest... just a few feet!

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  3. What a joyful post to read upon returning home from a full day of recruitment! Tomorrow is Bid Day: wish I could dive into this yummy jelly instead of what's ahead! Thank you, David, for this excellent explanation concerning the prickly pear and it delicious hot pink fruit!

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    1. Thanks, Susan! I bet you have some prickly pears in your garden - you could make prickly pear lemonade (just not for 900!) xo

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  4. Is there any source of them here in Upstate NY?

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    1. Sadly, Cathy, I can't think of anyplace that carries them. :( But prickly pear jelly is readily available online!

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  5. We have prickly pears in LA too so I understand the poetic prose. Though yours color much nicer (heat? variety?). GREG

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    1. I imagine it is a variety issue, Greg - next time I am in LA, I will have to see what I can see...

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  6. I shall have another go at this comment thing - sorry about that: Dear David, prickly pears or "Kaktusfeigen" as they are know around here are not a fruit that is easy to come by - although I have bought a few last year, I have not seen them at the markets yet - a rather elusive, great tasting fruit though and to be handled with great care - you jelly has a very elegant color and I am sure it tasted wonderful.
    Noch einen schönen Dienstag und schöne Grüße an Mark,
    Andrea

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    1. Dearest Andrea - the Kaktusfeigen are very different from these prickly pears, as we can grow both. The Kaktusfeigen are meatier with less juice, and cannot be used in the way I have shown, but they are very tasty as a fruit (but be careful of the spines!). I have seen jam made form them, but never jelly.

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  7. I see these prickly critters at the market all the time and keep wanting to take them home, but I have no idea what I'd do with them once I got them there.
    Now, I know!
    Hope your week is going smooth. xo

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    1. Colette - I wonder if you, too, have been seeing cactus figs in the market. They are from a different kind of plant, and can't be used for jelly, although they are very tasty!

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  8. I would have love to be by your side as you foraged for these gorgeous prickly pears. So much fun! I've cooked with them only once when I still remember getting those tiny needles in my fingers. Ouch! I may have to get a bunch next time I see them at the markets, as I really like the sound of this jelly!

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    1. John - and I just said to Andrea and Colette, check to make sure they are prickly pears and not cactus figs. The latter are fleshier and don't have enough juice to make the jelly, though you could make a marmalade or jam.

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  9. What a clever story accompanying this recipe!! The photographs are lovely and the recipe enticing-- do you think Golden Harvest will have these fruits in stock?

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    1. Thanks, Susan - if GH ever gets anything like it, they will get the cactus figs as they travel better.

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  10. Love this post! I am a huge fan the prickly pear - both for the amazing color and taste. Last time we were in AZ we brought back a bottle of syrup to make margaritas (http://www.rieglpalate.com/prickly-pear-margarita/). I would love to make my own some day.

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    1. I love your margarita recipe - and it is so different from mine. You will see mine soon! :) (Mine has just the juice and no simple syrup, so they are a bit tart, which we like.)

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  11. Hi David, believe it or not but I have never tried pricky pear. But after reading this post I will have to give it a try. Love the color of your jam, so pretty.

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    1. Alas, you are always away when they are ripe, Cheri! Maybe you can get a neighbor to freeze a bunch of them! :)

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  12. interesting, can't wait to try this..
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

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    1. You will like it, Dedy! It makes a great glaze!

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  13. Love the recipe! You're welcome to harvest on our side of the wash, too, and we won't charge you more than a single jar of finished jelly! Let's party in November.
    Bob & Ursula

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    1. Ursula and Bob - I will make sure we hold a jar for you! Thanks for your offer, but there are so many this year that we are letting the javelinas have most of them!

      We look forward to your return!

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  14. My Sicilian mother in law sometimes lays out a bowl of peeled prickly pears in a bowl after a meal, just like her mother did. They just eat them raw and are not bothered at all by the millions of seeds. I love the flavor but loose patience quickly. I do however love and admire all the different colors they come in, the dark pink, the deep orange etc. A work of art in a bowl.

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    1. When visiting with a friend from Sicily (in Venice), she served us the Indian Figs that you remember, Fiona - but they are quite different form the ones we have here. I have to wonder if they make good juice...? They are so beautiful, though, as you say...

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    2. I have always seen prickly pear and Indian fig used as synonyms, but after a quick look on Wikipedia I realized that although the name is commonly used for the same fruit, prickly pear is also specific to the Opuntia species, which must be what you are referring to. Thank you for pointing that out. You also have a point wondering about the juice, because I have never heard of prickly pear juice here. Now I am wondering if they taste the same or are similar? Only you can answer that!

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    3. I have another prickly pear post coming up - andI will do some more research - and show more photos - so people can see the difference. As to the taste, they are pretty different, although I need to do a side-by-side trial...

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  15. Your prickly pear jelly is quite fancy! Jams and jellies make me a bit nervous because I am not an exact measurer, but may have to give it a try because homemade is best!

    We have cactus pears in NorCal, but there color is not so brilliant. I think your variety would make a very nice simple syrup that could be combined with a variety of distilled spirits!

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    1. I feel lucky that I like to cook both by measuring or "by golly, by gosh" as my mother would say. I do find that baking and jelly-making require more measuring that other things, but it is worth the effort!

      The cactus pears you have in NoCal may not work for this. I need to get some and try. I do make a simple syrup with the juice, but also just use it plain in cocktails. (Stay tuned - the PP margarita is coming!)

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  16. I have always wanted to try a prickly pear! I see them on our walks, and in some yards. I was tempted to plant one myself, but they can get quite large. I have never seen them flower before - always caught site of them with only the fruit. So very pretty! The fruit looks luscious, and your jam I'm sure was delightful!

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    1. If you go to try one, Cathleen, just be careful of the glochids! They are nasty!

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