I thought the batch of prickly pear I got from Jess and Kai a few days back would be the end of it for the year. After all, I’m home-bound during shoulder rehab; or so I was convinced. The shoulder’s coming along fine, though, so wifey convinced me to take a short overnight trip to the Ranch and leave
the torture chair specialty exercise equipment behind. I was reluctant, given how much I enjoy my therapy; but I was eventually convinced after a few seconds’ consideration.
One of the “sweeteners” offered was a chance to gather more prickly pear. Late August and early September is prime pear season, and a drought seldom causes any significant reduction in available fruit. Indeed, wet years are less likely to produce good quality cacti due to splitting of the fruit. Sure enough, as we were driving along near the Ranch we saw lots of prime red fruit, ready for harvesting, and a lot of it on public lands (roadway right-of-way).
Come Monday morning we went a-roving, tongs and gloves in hand, and we readily filled two big carry-tubs with fruit. Nearly 20 pounds! Then I remembered: Oh joy, I would get to work all that fruit up. And I has stickers, large and small. Everywhere. It took the better part of a morning, but using my largest kitchen gear and some patience I got the fruit washed, quartered, cooked and extracted. (And only one teeny, tiny stick, hardly worth mentioning.) At the end I had enough juice to easily make three full batches of prickly pear jelly, maybe four.
I refrigerated the majority of the product and measured out about four cups of deep red liquid for a “test batch” of jelly. I planned to use a very simple recipe this time: Juice, acid, sugar and pectin. That’s it. (This was by request from daughterperson; and since she risked major prickles to help me get the fruit, well, I caved.) With the fruit juice already in the pot I added ¾ cup apple cider vinegar and began to heat on high. Meanwhile I measured out 6 cups of sugar. I took a ½ cup of the sugar and mixed in 3 stout tablespoons of no-sugar pectin. I put the pectin-sugar mix in early, while the liquid was heating up, and made sure it was stirred in well. As the syrup began to bubble I put in the rest of the sugar and stirred for a while to dissolve. I kept the heat on high until the liquid came to a rolling boil. I made sure the strong boil continued for a few minutes, for the pectin to activate. (I had to use the pat-of-butter trick to control the strong foaming.) I then pushed the pot off the heat and got out the jars.
As always, I had my lids sterilizing in a small pot of water, and the canning pot was preheated to just below simmer. My clean, sterile jars were waiting in the oven (set for 200° F); all I had to do was fetch out a few at a time and fill them using my trusty ladle and funnel. (By the way, a good canning funnel not only helps you control the mess, but lets you fill each jar to the exact, proper level. Get one!) I filled and canned, yielding eight half-pint jars of beautiful, deep garnet-red (with overtones of Tyrian Purple) jelly. This batch isn’t as “solid” as previous jellies, so it’ll also make great ice-cream topping.
Why the loose set? Well, three tablespoons of pectin works wonders for six-jar batches; I got eight. I suspect that’s all it is.
Anybody got some toast handy? Bagels? Vanilla ice cream they don’t want? Guess I’ll have to fend for myself…
The (Cactus Jelly) Heat is On!
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