The first time I ever saw a cactus fruit was along the highway near South Padre Island. I didn’t know much about cactus but it seemed to me that it just had to be good jelly material. I picked several and they sat in my car for weeks until someone confirmed for me that they were known as tunas and were used as food in Mexico. Several years passed before I collected cactus fruits along a railroad track outside town and turned them into jelly. I was mesmerized with the whole concept that something so tough and forbidding could be made into an attractive delicious jelly. I have been making cactus jelly yearly since then.
It is currently the beginning of cactus fruit season. I noticed that the cacti were full of ripe fruit in the Rio Grande Valley and decreasingly so as one traveled towards San Antonio. One can find ripe fruit here in town but one has to look harder than further south. Shortly though they will all be ripe. Ripe means a dark red color. They can be found all along the road side and along many railroad tracks. Many pastures and fields are just dotted with the cacti full of fruit. I think they look like red lights on a Christmas tree. As we drove in the early evening the plants with ripe fruit seemed to beckon to me. I could help but remark that there was so much jelly just waiting to be made. Once the fruit turns a dark red it is time to pick. My simple method for picking the fruit is to wear leather gloves and carry newspaper in my hand. When I grab the fruit I use the newspaper as a sort of mitten. I pull the fruit off the plant and rub it sort of like firming up a snowball. In doing so I rub off all the spines. I then drop it into my bucket. Since each plant has a lot of fruit it doesn’t take more than several plants to get all the fruit one needs. In fact I always seem to bring home more than I can use. My freezer is full of extra cactus pear fruit juice. One then cuts off the top end of the fruit, along with the stem end. I cut the fruit into fourths. Cover the fruit with water. The fruit are then boiled until soft. Then a food mill is used to press out all the juice of the fruit. Then utilize cheese cloth to remove any pulp from the liquid. Add sugar and lemon juice while bringing to a full rolling boil. At this point add the pectin and boil at a full boil again for one minute. The result will be a beautiful dark red and tasty jelly. Should you have extra juice you can use it to make an attractive Prickly Pear Margarita.
4 cups prepared prickly pear juice
3 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pkg No sugar-needed pectin
Now this is not a jelly making recipe but since those who have Tunas have lots I thought I would give you other options what to do with it.
Cactus Tuna Smoothie
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/2 cup raspberries
1/4 cup blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened cactus juice
1/2 cup ice
Place All ingredients in the order a blender; Blend. Stir well until smooth. Good for thse hot days and nights.
- Prickly Pear Drink
- 1 can (6 ounces) frozen pink lemonade concentrate, thawed
- 8 cups Prickly Pear juice , chilled
- 2 cans (12 ounces each) ginger ale or even 7 up, chilled
- Make lemonade as directed on can in large pitcher.
- Stir in cactus juice and enough ice to chill. Just before serving, stir in ginger ale.
- Let me know what you think.