Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Prickly Pear Jam 101 Tutorial

Happy Birthday to my husband ACE!

If wandering through the desert and desperate for food...I might eat a cactus. Arizona has very specific native plant laws and it is actually illegal to just go out and fill up your buckets. I found a great article on the prickly pear fruit here that said,
"Native plants in Arizona are protected by law and cannot be harvested or moved without a permit from the state's Department of Agriculture. It is illegal to harvest even the fruit from city, county, state, and federal lands or roadways. They can be harvested legally from private property with the written permission of the landowner and the state's $25 permit. The good news is the fruits can be harvested from your own property, without a permit, if they are for personal use."
I owe special thanks to my friend Susan for standing next to me and letting me gather the fruit from her own cactus so I could use it to make jam. I guess she figured it was high time for me to get some cactus fruit (aka tuna or tunas in Spanish...if you want the real technical name). I'm not making sushi jam. I will hence forth just call it "the fruit". Feel free to giggle when I type "the fruit" as well. That will make it seem more normal that I didn't want to claim "fish jam" as something I was capable of making. Who was it that first looked at a prickly pear fruit dangling off of a barb re-enforced plant and decided to try to eat it? I don't know...but I do know that cactus jam is one of the single most amazing jams I've ever had privilege to shove in my mouth. Really. They sell it in almost every tourist trap in the state of Arizona because it truly is such an amazing thing to try. Ironically, most of the natives of the state have never made this jam themselves. I for one, was actually okay with not having to process the fruit myself. Not a big fan of touching cactus in general. However, if done right, it can be perfectly safe. It just takes a few precautions. How do you get from the pointy sharp fruit to a luscious jam? It's a pretty interesting process, and one that I have really enjoyed learning how to do.

First things first, don't be an idiot. I can say that right? Use your giant brain and know that you can't just go gather these little fruit with your bare hands. Now I've said it. I'm assuming that anyone with half a mind will know not to grab cactus bare handed. Inevitably there will be that "one" who thinks they are a one of the X-men...and have to be macho. I will not be impressed with your red bloody swollen hands. Just saying...

Tongs. They're a beautiful thing. You firmly hold the fruit and twist. It comes right off...usually. The big fat red juicy ones are the best. Susan's were very very ripe. Oh my gosh! It was awesome!
Even with tongs, I still managed to get a few little spikes in my gorgeous chef hands. Try not to weep. I am fine. (Wait...unless your weeping includes sending me money...in that case I'm horribly disfigured and need very expensive medical attention...) Maybe not.
I gathered about fifty of the fruit to make a batch of the jam. Putting them in a metal can was brilliant. Nobody ever got poked by a cactus in a metal can. See...my giant brain is ever thinking of stuff. Yes, it also helps having been married to a safety specialist for fourteen years.
There are little spikes at the base of the fruit and a few stragglers on the skins. It is very important at this point (no pun intended) to continue using the tongs. I've seen the fruit juiced for jelly where they don't remove the skin and just make syrup and jelly after removing the spikes. This Processing Prickly Pear Fruit information was most helpful for jelly. However I wanted to use the fruit for jam. I'm not much for jelly...even grape jelly. It's a texture thing. Either way, the spikes need to be removed. I don't know anyone who likes to chew on these:

I've seen two methods for removing the spines. One was to soak them in hot water for an hour or so and then use a new toothbrush tho scrub the spines off under running water--and then throw away the toothbrush. I also saw them put over a hot flame with tongs and burned off in a blaze of glory. This is what I went with. It sounded a lot more fun.

This method also helped to loosen up the skin, much like what I do for removing the skin on bell peppers...but not as roasted. I don't want smoke flavored jam, so I held them just long enough to burn off the riff raff.

I placed the fruit in a metal pot and covered it with a lid for an hour or so. This held in the heat from the roasting and helped steam the skins.

This is what the fruit looks like on the inside. It's full of these rock hard seeds. They are seriously like little pebbles. You want them all out of your jam. BEWARE of cactus jam made by your dentist.

With a sharp knife, cut off both ends of the fruit and cut it in half.

Remove the skin. Now seriously, look at the color of that fruit. It's the most intense magenta I've ever encountered in fruit. Also note that when I was done with the jam...my kitchen looked like an 80's rock video. You've never seen so much hot pink in one kitchen. Minus the multi-zipper pants and the hair gel...this fruit could have been one in Flock of Seagulls.

I made the mistake of trying to remove the seeds with my hands at first and had the most amazing purple fingers.

Put the seeds in a bowl. They are surrounded by juice that can be used in the jam.

The seeds will come out when scraped with a spoon, much like a Roma tomato...but bright neon pink.
I put all the fruit in a bowl separate from the seeds.

Once the fruit and seeds where separated, I put the seeds in a strainer over the fruit and mashed the additional juice out, squeezing the seeds as needed.

Isn't that amazing?!

I put the fruit and juice in a food processor for a minute or two until smooth.

Then strain again to be sure there really are not any seeds at all.

Press the fruit through the strainer with a the back of a spoon. This will make a very smooth jam.

Chef Tess' Prickly Pear Jam
Makes 10- 8 oz jars

5 cups of prickly pear fruit and juice (from about 50 fruit)
1/2 cup of lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional)
2 boxes of powdered pectin or 2/3 cup UltraGel
7 cups of sugar or 5 cups Raw Sonora Dessert blossom Honey

Prepare canning equipment and sterilize jars.
Heat prickly pear fruit and juice, lemon juice and sugar or honey in a large heavy bottomed pot. I use an enamel coated cast iron pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Cook for 10 minutes stirring constantly. Sprinkle pectin over fruit mixture. Stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. This jam thickens as it cools, so it will seem pretty loose at this point.
Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space.
Wipe rims thoroughly with a sterile cloth. Top with sterile lids. , Tighten cap to finger tightness. Place jars in boiling water bath. Bring to a boil and start your timer. Boil for15 minutes.
Remove jars from canner and place on a clean dry towel in a draft free area.
Cool for at least 12 hours undisturbed.
Refrigerate any jars that did not seal.
Now, you have to admit, this is the craziest color for jam you may ever see. Isn't it?!
Like reliving 1982 all over again...but in jam form.

Jam will gel to a nice thick consistency.
There you go!


suzyqteacher said...

This jam is wonderful. My husband loved it and wondered if you needed more. That #10 can did not hold that many so if you need more my husband has gloves that can be used.

Chef Tess said...

Susan...I would love more! I'll call you!

Mama Peck said...

Fascinating tutorial! Congrats on some gorgeous and really unusual jam. :)

Goob said...

so beautiful! I think you should also try to make some prickly pear candy that actually taste good. (it always tastes just sweet with no recognizable flavor).
Also, the ChefTess Wise Woman of the East blend is AMAZING! I keep forgetting to tell you how much I've enjoyed that little sample. I sprinkled it in our baked beans, put it in our oatmeal cranberry cookies, and used some with blackberries and pomegranate molasses (like you had suggested last fall when we did the tarts). Its AMAZING!

Chef Tess said...

Smooches! I'm sooo glad you loved it! I saw your order too for the four jars! Thank you sooo much! I'll get on those soon!

Lamb said...

This post was just in time! My neighbor's property is absolutely ringed with prickly pear cacti and she has offered all the glorious bounty to me! I plan on making jam, jelly and juice. Maybe even some prickly pear ice cream!

mlebagley said...

Who would have thunk it! Very ingenious!

Staci B said...

Hi! I just picked a bunch of prickly pears on a hike and am so excited to make jam. I don't have quite enough for five cups of fruit. Do you think I could make up the rest with strawberries? Thanks!! Staci

Family Musings Over a Cup of Tea said...

Great pics. Thanks. I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Anonymous said...

I have 10 acres in Texas full of this fruit, I use it for everything That I used to use berries for, cobblers, syrups, margaritas.... Next time use a propane de-icer while the fruit is still on the nopales. Saves so much time and heart ache.

Julie said...

Amazing job with instructions! I'm on it! Thanks for the beautiful pix as well...visual person here :)

Unknown said...

I bought certo. Can you tell me how much to use?

jam healthy said...

Pectin in jam has a great effect on its thickness. There are numerous health benefits to it as well.

Kelsiecb said...

I'm wondering if you actually tried this jam with honey, or if you've only tested it with sugar? Will it still set to the same consistency with the honey? Thanks for the lovely recipe!

Michael Davey said...

"Isn't that amazing?!"

Yes. Yes it is. I wish I didn't live over a thousand miles (and across the Strait of Juan De Fuca) from Arizona, I'd pop into a store and buy some of the jam. It looks wonderful.

Doronna said...

I have made Jelly before, but never used the pulp. Most of the recipes say to squeeze and discard. So I'm wondering how the pulp taste? I want to try making some syrup. Have been reading recipes, but most are different. So will be an experiment. I will say that when I pick once. I picked like 7 gallons of pears. I then torched them, scraped the rest of the needles out with a knife in the sink. Rinsing each after, then cutting the top and bottom off. But think I might peel them more this next time and maybe remove some seeds. And see how it turns out. But with me doing them all, I juiced them then froze the juice. And have been making it as I please. The one recipe I used I got off of Pinterest http://pecancorner.blogspot.com/2009/09/how-to-make-prickly-pear-cactus-jelly_25.html?m=1 This recipe worked real well for me. Also want to tell you to always pick them with the wind to your back, so it blows the needles away from you.

Patent Lawyer said...

Amazing, this reminds me of visiting Arizona and having prickly pear cocktails!

Chi-Town HV said...

Instead of simply writing "2 boxes of pectin...," would you please use grams or ounces? Not all boxes are same size. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi Tess!

When you say two boxes of pectin, what size box are we talking about? Thanks! Christina

Anonymous said...

Great Jam, made a batch this morning. I also reduce some of the juice to a syrup and add it to chili to give it a slightly sweet hint of the desert in bloom, along with some strips of napolitos (slices of the tender young cactus leaves). Adding the napolitos has a similar effect as putting tomatillos. The desert has much beauty and many delicious experiences to offer if you take the time to get off the interstate! Arizona Al

Unknown said...

I would love to hear some additional info on how to CULTIVATE these prickly beasts, and what all range of gardening zones they were feasible in, in the past - And I suppose it would be helpful to look at how the gardening zones are changing vis-a-vis climate change! Either way, I should think the one best BY-product of this jam recipe, might be a couple of hundred tiny lil' cactus sprouts. Wouldn't THAT be awesome?

Methinks if ya'll bemoan the legal restrictions on cactus-pear collection/fisheries what-have-you, that one possible remedy might be to plant so many damn prickly-pear cacti all over the place! By head-starting 'em with a few years of home cultivation and then transplanting 'em along the roadsides, they could really take off.

Maybe then all of the OTHER plants might be all that much MORE rare - But surely they'd make an exemption for collecting "the fruit"?