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 cactus juice or cactus jelly. It's not very hard and they taste great! Two years ago David Eppele, President of Arizona Cactus & Succulent Research, Inc., a botanical garden in Bisbee, Arizona, shared the following recipes with us which we are repeating for the benefit of our many newcomers to Cochise County and our many new readers.
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.
Now you have about a gallon of cactus juice. To make never-fail prickly pear jelly, boil 4 cups of juice along with a package of 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 with melted paraffin or cap the jars and put them in the freezer. That's all there is to it! **
To make a delicious, refreshing drink that you can enjoy all year long, 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, pour into a gallon jar, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice and three cups of sugar. Fill with water and mix well.
It is also very easy to make a wonderful jelly from the dried mesquite beans. Gather about 3 quarts of mesquite beans and cut each into 2 or 3 pieces. Place in a large kettle and add water to cover. Simmer until the liquid turns yellow. Measure 3 cups of liquid into a large saucepan, stir in 1 package of powdered pectin, and stir constantly over high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add 4 1/2 cups of sugar and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute or until syrup comes off metal spoon in a sheet. Remove from heat, skim off foam, pour into sterilized jelly jars, and seal.
** In the article Gifts From the Desert in the September 1992 Master Gardener Newsletter, the procedure for making prickly pear jelly stated, "Pour the liquid into sterilized jelly jars and seal with melted paraffin or cap the jars and put them in the freezer." Due to the research done at Penn State, USDA, and Cooperative Extension, they no longer recommends sealing jelly with paraffin. Boiling water bath canner is recommended for processing jellies, jams, and spreads. For an altitude from 1000 to 6000 feet, process half-pints or pints for 10 minutes. I would like you to note this correction.