Before tromping through the woods looking for prickly pear, I had been researching recipes. The Sure-Jell package does not include a recipe for prickly pear jelly! Online recipes run the gamut – anywhere from 1 cup of juice with 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of juice with 4 or more cups of sugar. Most of the recipes included lemon juice, with the amount depending on how much juice was being used but even for 1 cup of juice some of the recipes called for the juice from one whole lemon.
The prickly pear juice reminds me of crab apple juice so I mostly followed the recipe in the Sure-Jell box for crab apple jelly.
I did not want my jelly to have the characteristic lemon flavor . . I wanted totally prickly pear flavor so I did a little research and . . something I didn’t know is that low acid fruits need a little more acid to help the juice, sugar and pectin gel. One thing I do not like, and it seems to eventually happen to all of us who make jelly, is for my jelly to be runny and not gel. It looked like lemon juice was going to be a necessary ingredient and therefore, the taste of my prickly pear jelly was going to be tainted by lemon flavor. As I was getting out my canning supplies, I came across my bottle of citric acid. I did a little more research. Citric acid was once made from lemon juice, though it mostly is not any longer, and I found that it would be a perfect substitute for lemon juice. One tablespoon of citric acid is a good substitute for the juice of one lemon.
I saw recipes where people recommended regular powdered pectin and said it worked better than the liquid pectin and I saw recipes where people said the liquid pectin worked better. I used liquid and it worked fine but I suppose the powdered may work just as well.
This is a good time to remind you to be sure you are using proper and safe canning methods. There are many, many blogs and other sites with canning recipes. Be very careful from whom you take advice. If you are not already familiar with proper and safe canning methods, please familiarize yourself with them if you are going to be doing any canning. The University of Georgia has the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning with 2009 Revisions. There is also a print edition, which I have, and though I find it difficult to find anything in there, I do think it’s a great resource and it’s a guide that I use often. The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is also an excellent and trusted resource.
While looking for prickly pear recipes, I saw two different blogs where there were pictures of water bath canning in process and neither had water even up to the top of the jars. Be very careful with your canning. Not only is it a lot of work and the food could be totally wasted if done improperly but folks can become very sick from eating food improperly canned. It is not a dangerous or scary process if you are educated in the “do’s and don’ts”, and you follow those procedures carefully.
To make prickly pear jelly, the first thing you will need is a supply of prickly pears. If you are buying them, especially from a grocery store, the prickles have probably been removed. On the cactus itself, the big scary stickers are called spines or needles and trust me . . they are just as sharp as needles. The smaller stickers on the fruit itself are called glochids. I do believe the smaller glochids are more dangerous than the big spines because you can’t even see most of them.
They can be removed by holding the fruit over a flame to burn them off. I stick a metal skewer through them and hold them over the flame of my gas stove. But, for making jelly, the entire pear can be used, glochids and all, and then the juice can be strained to remove the stickers. The first batch of juice I made, I simply added a couple of inches of water and made sure they didn’t run out of liquid, covered them and simmered them on low til they were tender. Then I gently mashed them with a potato masher.
For the second batch, I used the Mehu-Liisa Steam Juicer. It is an amazing pot and I highly recommend it for anyone who does much juicing.
Since the fruit was cooked with the stickers on it, I needed to strain the juice. I strained it twice through 8 layers of cheesecloth and twice through 4 layers of muslin. That was probably overkill but I wanted to be sure there were no stickers in the juice.
Any juice not used was put up in pint containers and frozen for future use.
To Make the Jelly:
5 cups prickly pear juice
2 T. citric acid
7 cups sugar
1 T. butter (optional)
1 – 3 oz. package liquid pectin
Mix the juice, citric acid and sugar in a pot that’s plenty big enough or this will boil over. Add butter if desired. This will help keep the foam from forming on top of the syrup mixture. Stir while cooking! Bring to a full, rolling boil . . the kind of boil that will not stop even when stirred.
Add the pectin, stir and bring back to a full rapid boil. Boil for a full 2 minutes. Ladle into jar and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.
To Make the Syrup:
Mix equal parts of juice and sugar. Add citric acid. For 6 cups of juice and 6 cups of sugar, I added about 1-1/2 teaspoons of citric acid. The acidity brings out the flavor of the cactus.
Bring to a boil, stirring. Boil til the thickness desired. If desired, add a bit of vanilla.
Ladle into jars and process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.