If you ever drive past prickly pear cacti on your daily commute, then chances are you’re passing by pounds of beautiful fruit! Come late August and far into September, prickly pear fruit ripens from green to deep purple, and it’s when the fruit achieves this rich hue that it’s time to pick! However, once the fruit is picked, then what? Here’s how you can prepare your own prickly pear juice as well as some tasty ways to use it!
How does prickly pear juice taste, you ask? Very tart; kind of like an unsweetened pomegranate or raspberry.
How To Pick Prickly Pears
If you’re more of a visual learner, I recently shared a couple videos on my Facebook page on how to best pick and chop prickly pears.
To safely pick these suckers, you will need:
- Pair of tongs
- Large plastic bucket or cardboard box (no baskets, bags or soft materials or the thorns will poke through!)
- Pair of tweezers (to address any thorns in the skin right away)
- Long sleeves, tall boots, jeans for best protection
Grasp fruit firmly with tongs and toss in the bucket. I prefer not to wear gloves because they gather too many thorns and once there are tens of fine thorns in your gloves, you might as well toss ’em.
HOW MUCH TO PICK?
Usually a third or half a 5-gallon bucket is more than enough for me and usually produces 4-5 batches of jelly. If this is your first time, start with a fourth or third of a bucket.
Managing the Thorns
There are many different varieties of prickly pears, each containing thorns or glochids in various number and thickness. Varieties here tend to have very fine glochids on the tops, tips and round nodes of the skin. Very few have thick, sharp glochids (the one I’m holding accidentally bumped against the side of the cactus which is why there are multiple thorns near the bottom).
TIP: I’ve found that the more ripe the fruit, the less glochids there are on the skin.
Just look at that color!
Many sources say to burn the glochids off, but I find that this takes WAY too much time. Here’s how I remove them:
- Fill a large (clean) sink or basin with hot tap water.
- Dump in the prickly pears.
- While holding the prickly pear under water with a pair of tongs, use a long-handled brush to scrub off the fine glochids.
- Rinse fruit and transfer to a separate large bowl.
- Repeat with remaining prickly pears.
Preparing the Fruit
As you can see, tongs are involved in nearly every step of this process!
To prep the fruit for boiling:
- Hold a fruit on a cutting board with your tongs.
- Using a serrated knife, trim off the top and end. Discard these.
- Quarter the trimmed fruit and dump into a 6-quart or larger pot.
- When the pot is 2/3rd of the way full, pour in cold, filtered water until fruit is just covered.
- Cover pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Straining the Prickly Pear Juice
Might as well say this now: Strain the juice while it’s still very warm!!
I made the mistake of allowing the pot to cool and sticking it in the fridge to deal with the next day. Mistake!
Cactus are, by nature, very mucous-rich plants. This mucous is also present in the skin of the fruits, and if you let the boiled fruit get cold, the liquid in their skin seizes up and turns to thick, stubborn jelly. Not the best for straining.
To start, pour the liquid through a mesh strainer.
Next, mash the fruit with a potato masher to release excess juice.
Then, dump the fruit in a cheesecloth, gather the ends and squeeze until every last drop of juice comes out. (Yes, it gets messy.)
Discard prickly pear pulp and rinse any seeds off the cheesecloth.
Cook’s Note: Prickly pear seeds are hard enough to break a tooth. Make sure none find their way past the straining process!
Finally, pour all of the juice through the cheesecloth for one final strain.
Pour juice into tight-sealing quart-sized jars. Store in fridge up to a week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Ways to Use Prickly Pear Juice
My favorite use for prickly pear juice is jelly! However, I learned a really interesting this weekend from a friend whose nieces are allergic to red food dye. Since the girls love pink, their mother mixes up batches of pink icing and frostings using drops of prickly pear juice. Genius! Is red dye a no-no in your household? Try using prickly pear juice as a food dye.
Lemonades and margaritas are also tasty with a shot of prickly pear juice.
Cook’s Note: Since prickly pear juice is tart, adjust sweetness accordingly after adding to beverages.
Missed the video on how to pick prickly pears?
Watch it on my Facebook page. While you’re there, please feel free to give me a like!
- 6 pounds deep red prickly pear fruit
- Cold, filtered water
- Place prickly pears in a large basin filled with hot tap water.
- Remove thorns from the surface of the prickly pears by holding the fruit under water with a pair of tongs and scrubbing the surface with a long-handle scrub brush. Rinse fruit and set aside into a separate bowl. Finish scrubbing remaining fruit.
- Cut tip and end off prickly pear by holding the fruit with a pair of tongs and using a serrated knife. Quarter the trimmed fruit and scrape into a 6-quart or larger stock pot. Repeat with remaining fruit.
- Add enough cold, filtered water to barely cover the top of the fruit and cover pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and boil 10 minutes.
- Allow juice to cool 15 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a deep bowl. Mash fruit with a potato masher to extract excess juice. Finally, dump fruit into a cheesecloth and squeeze out the last of the juice into the bowl.
- Give the juice one final strain through the cheesecloth.
- Pour into quart-sized jars or bottles and store in refrigerator one week or up to 6 months in the freezer.