I have always had this dream of harvesting fruit from the wild and making gifts for my friends and family. I really wanted to make prickly pear/blackberry jelly. But, we were not able to find any blackberries this year, so Prickly Pear Jelly it is! (You can read about our harvesting adventure here.)
Step 1: Removing Glochids
This was an adventure all in itself. To make the jelly, first, you have to get all the glochids (tiny thorns) off. The most common method is to burn it off. The guys on youtube all use crazy torches, but I figured any fire would be fine. Right? Wrong. We made a fire in our fire pit and grabbed our marshmallow roasters. We stuck the prickly pears on and put them over the fire. What happened is we just cooked the prickly pears and did not get the glochids off. Good thing we only tried with a few.
My best friend came to the rescue with her propane torch. We torched the first prickly pear and she bravely rubbed the glochid. Nothing. No spines in he finger! She left us with the task of torching allllll of the prickly pears. We had to do it in a few batches, but we got them all torched.
Step 2: Removing the Skin
The next step is not as bad, removing the skin. You just cut off the ends, slice hotdog ways down the pear, and peal it off. Something about torching it helps the skin slide right off. I decided to keep the seeds in while making my juice and to strain it out later. I was really worried about how much I would get, so I wanted to grab every last drop.
Step 3: Making the Juice
This is where things got interesting. I boiled the pears down to a juice. But I made the mistake of stirring them, which make it insanely pulpy. Then I had to strain out the seeds and pulp. But remember, I wanted alllll the juice I could get! So, I ended up straining the juice twice. 1st through a sifter (no sieve in my house). 2nd through a fine cheesecloth. (Ok, really it was a cotton game bag. Because, again, I don’t have these cooking tools! Cheese cloth is for Halloween decorations!) It took me way longer than it should have, but I ended with 8 cups of juice!
Step 4: Making the Jelly
Finally, making the jelly. Something I am an absolute pro at. Well, jam. I am a pro at making jam. But jelly can’t be that different, right?! I decided to just follow my strawberry jam recipie with full sugar. I made the jelly, put it in mason jars, and sealed it. I was up until about 10 making jelly!
The next day I went to check if it had set. As I was afraid of, it did not. No worries, I just had to cook it again. But first, I had to do a test batch to make sure it jelled properly. So, I dumped all the prickly pear syrup into a glass bowl and stuck it in the fridge. Then, it was time for my test batch. I followed the directions to a t this time. And guess what, like magic, my jelly set! The next day I got to re-process all of the jelly, put it into mason jars again, and re-seal them (with new lids of course).
Ok, so in this process I learned so many lessons.
- We were probably about 1 – 2 weeks early on harvesting the prickly pears. If we waited a bit longer, we would have had an easier time finding the ruby red pears (which are way easier to process).
- Juicers are King. If you have a juicer, you can just throw in the whole prickly pear. Glochids and all. It will remove the skins, glochids, and seeds, and just give you amazing juice. (In my defense, my first idea was to try and make jam with the meat of the fruit. Then I decided jelly would be better.)
- The best way to remove glochids from your finger is with duct tape!
- Next year I will half my recipie for each box of pectin. And I will only have to cook it once!
At the end of the day, I have delicious prickly pear jelly to share with my friends and to keep in my house. And I only got about 4 thorns in my finger! (Honestly, I am not surprised at all.) And I am better prepared for next year!