Trying New Things
After my success with the zucchini marmalade, I felt bold enough to try another jelly variety new to me, in the form of Prickly Pear. Yes, cactus fruit, or tunas as they are called. Since this is not something I cultivate in my garden, I’ve been on the lookout for a wild source. I’ve seen a lot growing in the medians and along roadways, but I am always leery of foraging in potentially polluted areas. Luckily, I was able to get out into the wild last week, and came upon a lovely stand of fruiting plants. I was able to gather a few tunas to bring home for the jelly larder.
On the topic of wild-crafting, I just want to remind everyone that responsible collecting practices must be followed. Never collect all the resource. Leave the oldest and youngest plants. Leave enough for the forager behind you, and more importantly leave enough that the plant colony can continue to reproduce successfully. For example, each of the plants I visited had between ten and twenty tunas. I limited myself to collecting two from each plant. It gave me a rather small harvest, but it was one I felt that was not damaging the plant colony.
Cooking It Up
Tunas require a little special handling, since they have tiny spines on them which must be removed before processing. Actually, you don’t even want to touch them with your bare hands before you deal with the little spines. I had planned to burn mine off with my jewelers torch, but due to technical difficulties (out of propane) I resorted to skewering them with a kebab stick and holding them over the flame of the gas stove burner. Very easy.
Once the spines are gone, it’s just a matter of following the basic fruit jelly preparation steps. Since this was my first time using the cactus fruits, I thought it best to search up what other people were doing. I’m glad I did, because I found a nice low sugar recipe posted by Mr. Homegrown at the Root Simple blog. http://www.rootsimple.com/2010/08/low-sugar-prickly-pear-jelly-recipe/
I had to modify the recipe for an extremely small batch, but it seemed to work just fine. In my experience it works to reduce recipes for jams and jellies, but you run into trouble when you try to increase them. After pressing, I ended up with 1 1/4 cups of juice. So I reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup, used 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and 1/3 package Sure-Jell for low sugar recipes. I also boiled the mixture for 4 minutes instead of one, because that’s when mine seemed to be ready according to the fork tine drip test. And I have made a few batches of “syrup” that were meant to be jelly, so I like to err on the safe side. Due to my extremely low volume, I just made refrigerator jars, without the actual water bath canning step, since we’ll consume what I made in the next week or so and it will be fine in the refrigerator.
This low sugar recipe really does allow the flavor of the fruit to shine through. Tasty! If you have access to tunas, I recommend you give it a try!