A few weeks ago I harvested prickly pear fruit from around our yard for the first time and made homemade jelly from it. I posted a few pics on Facebook, and Marco Poloed some of my family members throughout the process. I had so many questions and comments, I thought I would organize the process, pictures, and videos here in one location for your enjoyment:
Harvesting the fruit from the cacti:
After harvesting the fruit, you need to prepare it before cooking. Here’s how I did mine: You can find the alcohol camp burners here.
After about an hour of slow-boiling the fruit, I used a potato masher and mashed as much of it down as I could, then drained it over a huge bowl, using some leftover sheer fabric I had in the laundry room. You can also use a couple layers of cheese cloth, or better yet, a cotton towel (i.e., flour sack towel). However you decide to drain it, be sure that the fabric is fine enough to filter out all the pith and seeds, so all that is left is the juice without any pulp/pith.
Here’s how I make the jelly:
6 cups juice from prickly pear
2 ounces of no-sugar needed fruit pectin (or follow directions for sugar amounts on normal pectin)
3 – 4 cups sugar
Preheat oven to low temperature, 250ºF.
On a large baking tray (I use a large pizza pan), place jars, lids and rings – all separated – and place in the oven for 15 minutes to sterilize. When the 15 minutes are up, turn the oven off, but don’t remove contents yet.
In a large 6-8 Qt saucepan (I use my Dutch Oven), pour in the fruit juice and pectin. With heat set to high, bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. (A “rolling boil” means that the juice continues at a full boil even when stirring.)
Add the sugar at this point. Stir constantly, mixing well and dissolving the sugar. Bring back to a rolling boil, continuing to stir. Once it reaches a rolling boil again, continue to boil at this stage for one full minute.
From this point on, you must work quickly: as soon as the heat is removed, the juice will begin to gel.
Turn off the heat, remove 3 jars from oven and place on cutting board or counter. (I cover my cutting board with a dish towel for softness and heat absorption.)
Using a canning funnel and ladle, pour juice into jars to about a 1/4″ from the top. Wipe rims of jars with damp paper towl to clean any drips that may have touched it. Place lids on jar and hand-tighten the rings.
After filling all 8 jars, turn jars upside down onto their lids for 5 full minutes. (This keeps the lids hot and replaces the need for a canning water bath.)
After 5 minutes, turn jars right-side up and allow to cool completely (a good 12 hours or more) in a non-drafty area before removing rings and storing.
DISCLAIMER: I’ve received concerned feedback from some people, saying that “The FDA recommends…” and you can fill in the rest. Believe me, you’ve already boiled the heck out of the fruit, the jars and other equipment are extremely hot and sterilized, and there is no need for a water bath preparation for this particular recipe. I do a lot of food prep and canning, and I DO NOT RECOMMEND skipping water bath sealing for any other canning preparation, except for this one recipe. The lids will pop and seal tightly as it cools, just as normal canning will. Stores without refrigeration for a year (again, FDA recommends a year for anything canned, but I’ve opened jellies made from this recipe after more than a year, and they are still just as delicious and fresh-tasting, the seals still intact).