M: Cactus pears, also called cactus fruit, prickly pears or tunas, grow on the end of cactus paddles, the purple fruit looking like odd, swollen fingers. Here in North Carolina, they’re in season from September into December and the shockingly vibrant color and watermelon-meets-kiwi sweetness of the flesh makes it a winner eaten raw, used in relishes or juiced for use in sorbet, cocktails or, of course, jelly. It’s one of my favorite fall fruits. So why do I feel a hint of dread when I hear it’s time to harvest?
It’s probably because I’ve never once collected the prickly pears without taking a little damage. The cacti themselves have sharp, inch-long thorns that will easily stick you right through your Levi’s. If you do manage to avoid and contact with the paddles, the fruit itself is covered with hair-like barbs that make it all but impossible to pick them bare-handed or even wearing thin gloves. It’s worth the effort, but go prepared. Wear heavy leather gloves or use tongs to twist the fruit free from the paddle and if you drop one into the void between cacti, don’t be a hero. Let it go.
Once you get them home, hold the fruit with tongs and scrub the barbs off using a firm brush. Cut the ends off and use a knife to score one side to peel. There are different techniques for extracting the juice and dealing with the small seeds within. I don’t cook them, I don’t slice them open and scrape out the seeds, i don’t mash them by hand. Instead, toss the fruit into the blender (or food processor) whole and liquify the lot of them. Pour through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove remaining solids with a yield of roughly a cup of juice per pound of fruit.
Who’d have thought making the jelly would be the easy part of this recipe for making jelly? With the addition of a little lime juice for flavor and acidity, this is a straightforward dry pectin jelly that is quick to make and tastes as good as it looks. Again, worth it. But tread carefully among the cacti.
- 3½ cups cactus pear juice
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1 (1.75 oz) package dry pectin
- 4½ cups sugar
- Combine cactus pear juice, lime juice and dry pectin in a large, heavy pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
- Add sugar and return to boil for one minute.
- Remove from heat and ladle into six sterilized half pint jars, leaving ¼” of head space.
- Cap jars with lids and bands.
- Process 5 minutes to in a boiling water bath to seal.
Originally: Cactus Pear Jelly