As the summer deepens, prickly pears are ripening in the desert. In the higher elevations, they may still be a few weeks away from that perfect juicy purple ripeness. I’ve been playing with prickly pears for more than 40 years, and have finally settled on the easiest, quickest way to make the juice. I’m a little embarrassed when I think of all the time I’ve wasted in earlier years with more complicated techniques.
The first thing to do is assemble your tools. Do this first and you’ll save time and aggravation in the long run. You need tongs, tweezers and rubber gloves. Just grocery store gloves will do, but buy good ones, not the cheapest. This will keep most of the stickers out of your fingers. The tweezers are for the occasional sticker that will still find its way into your hands.
First rinse the fruit in a colander to wash off any dust. Then cut the prickly pears into big chunks — three to four pieces each.
You do not need to take off the stickers or peel them. The peel is contains healthy nutrients. It is especially rich in betalains, which are powerful antioxidants. In fact, prickly pears are the only know source of all of the 24 naturally occurring belatains. If you’d like to learn more you, can read about it here. Prickly pears are also high in vitamins A and C.
Cut up about a dozen pears, a few more if they are small, and put them in a blender jar. For the first batch, you’ll need to add about a fourth cup of water to get the process going. (For later batches, just use a little juice from the first batch).
Run the blender until you have a nice slurry. Then strain through a fine sieve.
Around a dozen prickly pears should give about a cup of juice. To make syrup, transfer it to a saucepan, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar (or less), a little lemon juice and about a teaspoon of cornstarch. Cook until thickened, store in jar and refrigerate.
You can use your syrup to top pancakes, waffles, French toast or ice cream. If you are interested in branching out to other recipes you can learn about Prickly Pear Onion Jam, Prickly Pear Barbecue Meatballs or Prickly Pear Ice Cream in The Prickly Pear Cookbook. One my favorite recipes is Prickly Pear, Citrus and Chipotle Sauce for Chicken in The New Southwest Cookbook. Two simple but delicious recipes are Prickly Pear Salad Dressing and Summer Jam in my latest book Cooking the Wild Southwest.