Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly or Tuna Jelly

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.

Prickly Pear Recipe

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.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Recipes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly or Tuna Jelly

  1. Tracy says:

    I live northeast of Dallas. I have a great recipe for prickly pears to infuse with tequila and mix with your favorite margarita recipe. My husband found some last week on a golf course and were perfect and ripe. I stopped along the highway and picked some although they were not very big and not ripe. Does anyone know of any prickly pear cactus plants northeast of Dallas that I can harvest ? thank you

    • Tracy-
      One of the interesting things about prickly pears is that they ripen at different times so plants 10 feet away from one can be at a different stage of maturity. So if you keep looking I suspect you will find some. Or you could go out to the golf course and look there. Another option is to wait until the prickly pears where you looked mature. It probably won’t be that long. You won’t need very many for your tequila mix. Do you want to share your prickly pear tequila recipe with us?

    • elizabeth says:

      I live in New Mexico and have a beautiful cactus garden in my yard. It is difficult, and takes constant vigilance to keep Prickly Pear under control…..but it is worth any work to see all the gorgeous flowers, with numerous bees fighting for a place, in each blossom, where they can roll, play in the pollen. It looks like a ‘bee orgy’. And now I have the dark red tunas…………just starting to fall. I was looking for a good recipe for candy, but your margarita sound fantastic!!! Could I get the recipe???? Wish you lived close, I would bring you a basket full…….Do you think they would ship??? (I am originally from Shreveport, not far from you)……………..

      • Elizabeth-
        Thank you for visiting my blog. Your cactus garden sounds great.I love to see cactus flowers in bloom. What color of flowers does you Prickly Pear have? Ours are mostly yellow with a few red ones.
        I like to harvest the tunas before they fall. 🙂 As I drive down the highways near here the tunas are ripe everywhere. I see all of the fruit and think of all the jelly I could make. But one can only eat and give away so much jelly.
        As far as the Margarita:
        Use the juice as per instructions for jelly, without sugar or pectin.
        2 oz tequila
        3/4 oz triple sec (or Cointreau)
        1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
        1 oz prickly pear juice

        Combine all liquid ingredients into an ice filled blender.
        Pour into a salt-rimmed glass. Add a fresh lime slice. Aren’t prickly pear tunas great!

  2. pjchaney says:

    I have hundreds upon hundreds of cactus fruits that are beginning to ripen. I have been drinking the juice, it is suppose to be good for fibromyalgia pain. But I have such an ample supply I was looking for other recipes. Thanks so much for the great information, especially the margarita.

    • pjchaney-
      Hundreds and hundreds of tuna fruits! Now that is a jellymaker’s heaven for sure. I will be right over with my buckets. You motivated me to add several recipes for cactus fruits, even though this is a jelly making site. So if you like, look on the Cactus Jelly page.

  3. mrsawc says:

    Perfect! Exactly what I was looking for!! Thank you

  4. Joanne Thorp says:

    Do you use the water these were cooked in or discard it

    • Joanne- Yes, you will use the water because the cooked cactus fruits will have released much of their juice into the water. A food mill or potato masher will help you release the rest of the juice.

  5. kaddy says:

    i am having trouble this year making my jelly set. it is thick but not jelly. any suggestions

    • Kaddy-
      Getting jelly to jell every time (or even most of the time) is an art that can be difficult to master. The first thing is to make sure you are following the recipe and not leaving anything out or reducing ingredients. I think the most inexact part of making jelly occurs when we add water to the fruit. The recipe calls for covering the fruit with water. The next time try not adding quite as much water. Make sure you are boiling it for the time required. I generally add an extra tablespoon of pectin to the recipe also to make sure it jells. Try this to see it it helps. Let us know how the next batch comes out. Good luck and enjoy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s