Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Prickly Pear Excursion

All along the roadsides here in North Central Texas you see a lot of prickly pear cactus.  In the spring/early summer they have lovely yellow blooms and in August/September they have red fruit that is ripe for picking, the darker the better.
The fruit or tunas as they are called are a gorgeous dark red outside and magenta pink on the inside.
A friend picked them last year and made jelly which is very popular and can be quite pricey.  So we set out early one morning about 8 am, before the temps went up, down a little used road and picked two 5 gallon buckets almost full.
Picking the fruit was the easy part, you have to use metal tongs and watch where you put your hands and feet.  Keep body parts away from the long spines on the cactus pads and definitely away from the little fuzzy dots on the fruit. 
Those dots have clusters of invisible hair-like spines that easily get in and irritate your skin.  We were careful but still got a few in our fingers.  Elmer's glue does a good job of pulling some out, tape will get a few but it will take a couple of days for the others to work their way out.
In order to remove some of those spines called glochids, we put some in a paper grocery bag and shook them.  It did knock some off, but being hair-like and invisible they kind of float in the air.  My friend did a second batch and rinsed them in water a couple times too to get rid of the glochids.
After last year's trial run and nearly ruining her tomato strainer, my friend invested in a Mehu-Lisa steam juicer.  This thing is worth any amount you pay for it.  She has juiced all kinds of fruits with little to no work.  As the steam did it's work and softened the tunas she used an old fashioned potato masher to squash them.  The skins can be tough and the insides have little rock-like and rock hard seeds that you don't want so the steamer made life so much easier.
The juice drains into a canning jar and is the most gorgeous color, a bright magenta just like a beet.  It was strained through a coffee filter before bottling to make sure we got all the hairy glochids out.

For my half which was about 4.5 gallons, I got nearly 5 quarts of juice.  This was pretty much an all day affair so my friend did hers the next day.  She said the fruit was much softer and she got 6 quarts from the same 4.5 gallons of fruit so we will be picking one day and waiting a day to make juice next year.

The juice is mild tasting and I'm told makes a wonderful mix for lemonade.  I'm going to be trying it in smoothies too.  I may also try a little fabric dying with it.

I love free food, don't you?  

(The small canning jars on the counter are bone broth my friend canned the day before.)


Suztats said...

Free food is the best! I wonder how the juice would be for prickly pear liqueur. Lovely colour. Look forward to see your dyeing experiments.

ladyhawthorne said...

I bet it would be good, it would need sweetener as the juice is pretty mildly flavored.

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