In times of drought and depression, my money's on the prickly pear cactus.

All over Albuquerque right now, vitamin C laden cactus fruit are ripening to a deep eggplant purple. They're called "tuna" or "cactus apple" and they taste like blackberry and melon which, when cooked up with citrus and sugar, taste even better.

I've been experimenting for years with this unusual fruit and here's my favorite recipe, given to me by a hunter-gatherer friend.

Prickly Pear Preserves


* 24 ripe prickly pears
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 cup water
* Juice of one lemon
* Juice of 1/2 orange
* 1/2 orange, diced small
* 1 package pectin


Makes one 1-pound jar

Using a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands, plunge the prickly pears in boiling water for a few minutes, then remove the thin, outer layer with a sharp knife as you would a tomato skin. Cut the pears in half, scoop out the seeds, and put them to one side; then chop the flesh and place it in a saucepan with the sugar and water. Put the seeds into a sieve and mash them vigorously to extract the juice. Add this to the pan along with the citrus juices and the orange pieces. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, or until the preserve has thickened and the liquid has reduced. If you like your jam very firmly set, add the pectin, but the preserve sets quite adequately without it. Pour the jam into a sterilized jar and seal. This chunky preserve, with its unusual flavor, can be spread on toast, biscuits, or muffins for breakfast or used to make very pretty pies. Its flavor is a cross between blackberry and melon.

Warning: Watch out for the spines! Even if you purchase the pads or fruit in a supermarket, check them for prickles before eating. Promptly remove any spines embedded in your skin. Keep a close eye out for the downy spines (glochids) also. They are easy to miss when cleaning.


HINT: It's no understatement to say that this recipe is a purple nightmare to concoct. Your kitchen, your clothes will be stained purple if you're not careful and well, even if you are... But it's worth the adventure. Especially on french toast.

Views: 349

Comment by mombat on September 24, 2008 at 10:02am
My son loves them . We toast them over the stove flame to remove the fuzzy thorns and then slice in half and eat the insides.
The juice stains, but is a lovely color.
We will have to try the preserves.
Comment by Zoe on September 24, 2008 at 10:20am
Thank you so much for this recipe!!! I moved onto an acre in Tijeras in January of this year and my hillside is full of Prickly Pear! You have inspired me to harvest and make preserves. I am worried about removing all the thorns though.

Maybe, just maybe, this is my new career and I can finally give up working for the Evil Empire. Not really but I can dream, right?
Comment by chantal on September 24, 2008 at 10:46am
Hairy McLairy, sounds like a fair trade to me. Where's the drop zone?
Comment by shotsie on September 24, 2008 at 11:45am
I remember being in college, way back when, and making a gallon of prickly pear champagne. The first batch was so good - like a very light fizzy rose', that I tried a second batch, which blew up in the middle of the night (moral - don't use glass jugs to make wine). We had tons of tunas in Tucson.... glad to see someone try their hand at preserves here - those little bitty thorns are nasty to deal with.
Comment by chantal on September 24, 2008 at 12:00pm
Prickly pear champagne?!? That sounds divine. Still got the recipe?
Comment by shotsie on September 24, 2008 at 12:59pm
To make the champagne, you'll need to start with about a gallon of tunas and a gallon of water - cook the tunas in the water until soft enough to mash, then let cool down and mash them. Set the covered container in a dark cool place and let the mixture stand a day or two. (I use a five gallon bucket.) The next day, carefully strain the mixture to get the juice. You have to measure the residue sugar (using a hydrometer or whatever you can borrow from a winemaker) - there's not enough sugar to produce wine - you'll probably need to add 2 pounds of sugar to the juice. Add champagne yeast (that's really important) and put this juice into a jug with an airlock to let the CO2 out, but air out. Set the jug in a cool dark part of your house and let it complete fermentation - this takes 2 - 4 weeks. When it's ready, make a sugar syrup - boil equal amounts sugar and water together - then add a teaspoon to each beer bottle (or whatever bottle you can cap), then add the fermented wine to it and cap it off. Let it ferment for 1 -2 months (to get rid of the yeast flavor), and you're done!
Maybe you can work out a deal with Kelly's at that last stage to get bottles and caps - they also might have the sugar measuring equipment - you need to get that right.
Comment by Duane W Bargar on September 24, 2008 at 2:04pm
Just the post that I wanted to see, I've been eying all the wayward prickly pears with the thought of doing something other than making a mess. The preserves sound great!
Comment by Kemper Barkhurst on September 24, 2008 at 11:14pm
great work, let me know if you have any extra or might be interested in making a batch for the Open Space's Harvest festival this Saturday. I would love to sample it out to people. I'll be there pressing apples.
Comment by Dawn Allynn on September 25, 2008 at 1:50pm
I used to see these at the store, but not lately. I can't even think of where I may have seen any in the countryside. Now I will have to go for a drive and search :D
Comment by SweetCaroline on September 26, 2008 at 9:57am
Prickley Pear fruits are delicous. But be careful when cleaning them. The big thorns are easy to remove, but those little fuzzy ones are annoying to the fingers and mouth if you don't get them all off. Be sure and remove ALL of them. That is Mom's advice for today!


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