Joe and I first tasted prickly pear jelly and syrup at the Downtown Growers Market here in Albuquerque. They were passing out samples and I loved it at first taste. You will find prickly pear cactus plants in most neighborhoods here in Albuquerque, I thought surely I would be able to find the ripened fruit in a local fruit market but so far I haven’t found any. My niece offered me the fruit aka “tuna” off her cactus and I happily took her up on her offer. So Joe and I went over with gloves and tongs and picked two bags full. It was about 6 pounds of raw fruit and made just over 6 cups of juice. I wasn’t exactly sure how to prep them but knew that the prickly splinters aka “glochids” needed to be removed. We have a small weed burner that we used to burn off the glochids. As Joe was burning them off we noticed that the fruit reacted like a roasted chile with the fruit blistering and the outer skin separating from the fruit. At that point I decided to steam them like a chile to see if that would make peeling them easier. I placed them in 3 bowls with tight lids and refrigerated them overnight. The next morning I set up my kitchen to work up the fruit. I sliced them in half and scooped out the fruit like you would an avocado. It was so easy and in no time I had a big bowl of prickly pear fruit ready to process. I pureed the fruit in a blender and strained the pulp to remove the seeds. Then I ladled the juice into 1/2 pint jars. With this juice you can make any number of things from jelly and syrup to candy or sorbet. I’ve even found pies and cheesecakes that have been flavored with this sweet nectar. I went into this as an experiment and found it a tasty adventure. This year I made jelly and syrup but next time I may try something more adventurous.
There are many different ways to prepare prickly pear fruit but this method worked well for me. I opened up my grill and set out a grill pan, you know the ones that have holes in them. This is a great height to work and you can dump any ashes in the grill. Add the fruit in a single layer on the pan so that you can shake the pan and easily turn them to burn off the prickly hairs over all sides.
Knowing that working with these would stain everything it touched I brought out the old cutting board. Also, wearing a pair of gloves will keep your hands from staining. Keep a washcloth handy to clean up as you go. I tried peeling them and that proved time consuming. But if you slice them in half you can scoop out the pulp easily.
If using soon you can refrigerate the juice. Otherwise they should be preserved by freezing or seal the jars in a hot water bath.