Prickly Pear tunas are turning ripe this time of year. Tuna are the fruit of the prickly pear cacti that ripen after it flowers. Prickly Pear Jelly has a unique flavor I wouldn't begin to know how to describe, but it's good. My neighbor has a nice crop of tunas this year and I decided to try my hand at making jelly. I searched the web for recipes and tips then got started.
There are different kinds of prickly pears and the tunas can be different colors. I'm not sure all prickly pear tuna are good for human consumption so be sure you do your research.
The tuna from the prickly pear I'm using here have very long, hard and sharp spines on them. They also have very tiny almost invisible spines or stickers called glochids.
The tuna are covered with patches of glochids and make working with the fruit a challenge. These glochids will make your life miserable if you get any in you. The slightest breeze will blow them around once disturbed, trust me on this! I was very careful not to spread them around but a day or two after my jelly making I still 'found' a couple.
Over at my neighbors, I used tongs to carefully grasp each ripe tuna to remove it while being very careful to not step on any spines that had dropped on the ground. (I was wearing flip flops for this job, not at all the suggested footwear in a cactus patch.) I had read that green tunas have more pectin so I included some of them too.
You can cut the peel off the tuna or burn off the stickers, I choose to leave them on. Most of the directions I found online suggested the next step to puree or juice the the fruits, strain through a cloth and then cook them. I tried this with the first batch and regretted it. The pureed fruit is very gelatinous and slimy, full of seeds and hard to work with raw. I never achieved getting it strained through a cloth at all. I dumped it into my cooking pot next and on medium heat I began stirring. The fruit easily burned and it took me a week to scrub that pot clean.
The next batch I cooked the fruits whole in water not quite covering the tops until tender, about 20 minutes. I cooled it some then pureed it in my blender. So much better that way! Cooking removed the gelatinous quality and it was similar to other fruit purees.The addition of the water did thin out the finished puree of course.
The next step needed is to remove the seeds. I did this by pouring puree into the colandar set inside a large bowl. Using a spatula I stirred and pushed the puree through leaving peels, seeds and most of the solids behind. Yes the tiny stickers, the glochids, are still in the fruit puree. At this point they are soft and harmless.
Now the juice can be strained through cloth. Cheese cloth is probably too large of a weave to catch the stickers; I used cloth diapers. These are diapers I purchased on Amazon to use only in the kitchen, (they are wonderful for many kitchen jobs, so glad I found them ;) It took a long time to strain and still I could see the tiny glochids in the strained juice that I poured into quart mason jars. Though supposedly safe at this point I still did not want those little buggers in my finished jelly!
I noticed that they were settling on the bottom of my jars so I refrigerated them over nite. The next day I carefully poured the juice in measuring cups leaving the stickers in the bottom of the jars.
Now I was ready to make the jelly. I'm sorry but I don't remember the site where I found the following low sugar recipe. If I remember one day I will update with a link here. I picked 16 pounds of tuna, and that made 16 cups of finished juice. It was a lot of work but I did enjoy my experience, and I love making something from free things or what I already have. Have you ever tried Prickly Pear Jelly?
Prickly Pear Jelly, Low Sugar Recipe
4 cups of juice
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1 pkg of low sugar pectin
3 cups of sugar
Makes 6 8 oz jars. Water bath process.
Follow directions for any type of fruit jelly.
Measure juice into a large pot. Stir in pectin and lemon juice. Stirring constantly bring to a boil then add sugar. Stir sugar in and when it comes to a rolling boil that can't be stirred down, boil for one minute. Immediately ladle into waiting hot jars. Clean rims of jars, apply lids, and process in a water bath timed for your elevation. At my elevation in Phoenix, thats 15 min.
- you can heat the sugar in the microwave for a minute to warm it before adding to boiling juice. It goes faster that way.
- Keep sterilized jars hot and ready on a cookie tray in a 200 degree oven.
- Water bath processing is not necessary if you plan to refrigerate after cooking.
- I add 2-3 TB of vinegar to my processing water to keep my jars clean.
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