Prickly pear cactus grows all over the Southwestern US. It's a big, beautiful plant, and the whole thing is edible, once you remove the thorns. In Mexico it's as common to eat as eggs, but here it's a relatively unknown food item, except in Mexican communities. In Mexico it's called 'nopales', and the fruits are called 'tunas'. I was delighted, when we were in Mexico for my birthday, to see it on the menu almost everywhere. The nopales leaves are fantastic medicinally-- they've been shown in medical studies to reduce blood sugar levels, which is really helpful for diabetics. Unfortunately you'd have to drink about a gallon of nopales juice per day to get the full medicinal benefits...
My mum lives in an area that is covered with prickly pear plants, so a few weeks ago when I was visiting, I dragged her and my little sister out on a tuna-hunting mission. And I'm so glad I dragged them along, because my mum had the clever idea of handing me rubber gloves on the way out the door. My previous method, which, now that I think about it was most inconvenient, was to take my shoes off, put my hands in the shoes, and pull the tunas off that way, rubbing them back and forth between my hands to get all of the fuzzy prickly bits off. This was problematic for 2 main reasons:
1. Walking barefoot around cacti= I must be missing brain cells. Yes, I've stepped on thorny bits. Yes, it hurts like hell.
2. Sometimes you get prickly bits stuck in your shoes and don't see them. Then you put your shoes back on. See above.
With thick rubber gloves on, the tunas come right off, and the little fuzzy thorns don't get you. You can also rub them back and forth in your hands before throwing them in the bag. I collected as many as I could. The bag was heavy. Nobody else would carry it, and I felt like Sisyphus all the way home.
When you get home with your bag full of prickly pears, dump them straight in the sink, and don said rubber gloves again. Rub each one with a cloth, under running water. The prickles will all come right off. Like I told my sister, it's not the little pricks you need to worry about...
This jam is amazing. It's sweet and slightly tart. It's got a fresh flavour slightly remniscent of watermelon or Jolly Ranchers. It's amazing. And unlike anything I've ever tasted before.
Prickly Pear Jelly
makes approx 3 8-oz jars
6 cups prickly pear fruit, mashed (peeled first, then mashed)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 tb pectin
1 tb calcium water (both come in the pomona pectin packet-- if using a different pectin, follow directions according to packet)
The prickly pear fruit is filled with seeds, so first off it's necessary to strain the seeds out. Do this by pressing the mashed fruit through a sieve. You'll have a bright pink liquid. About 4 cups of it or so. Bring it to a boil, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Boil for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 500, and put in the jars you'll be using (without the lids). Once the jelly is room temperature, pour in the calcium water and pectin, and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, and immediately spoon into the boiling hot jars. Seal, and process in boiling water for ten minutes.
By the way, my friend Butter just wrote a post about tunas too. Check it out here!
This post is shared at Real Food Wednesday and Pennywise Platter Thursday.