Guide to Making Prickly Pear Jelly

  • 01 of 08

    Prickly Pears From Harvest to Jelly

    Prickly Pear Fruit on Display
    Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

    Prickly pear (Opuntia) is a cactus that is hardy even in the cold winters of the Northeastern U.S. and produces delicious fruit in great quantity. Jelly made from prickly pear fruit has fabulous color and taste, but first you've got to deal with the prickles and then the seeds. Here are some techniques that make the project fairly easy—and the result is absolutely worth it!

    If you don't have any prickly pear cacti growing near you, you can sometimes find the fruit for sale in late summer. These have the advantage of having already had the prickles removed; the disadvantage is that you have to pay for them.

    Just to give you some idea of quantity, 40-50 prickly pear fruits will yield approximately five 1/2-pint jars of jelly following this method.

    Materials needed:

    • Prickly pear fruits
    • Plastic beverage bottle
    • Collection container
    • Tongs
    • Gas stove burner or grill
    • Paring knife
    • Large heavy pot
    • Food mill, seive, or colander
    • Wooden spoon
    • Granulated sugar
    • Lemon juice
    • Lemon peel
    • Stovetop
    • Jelly jars and lids
    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    Collect the Prickly Pear Fruit (Safely!)

    Prickly pear fruit is aptly named. The tiny prickles are pernicious and once they get into your skin, you'll be feeling them for days. Here's how to collect prickly pear fruit without getting the painful prickles on you.

    1. Cut the top half off of a plastic beverage bottle.
    2. Place the bottle around a prickly pear fruit (without touching the fruit) and twist to detach it from the plant.
    3. Drop directly from the bottle into a collection bag or other container.
    Continue to 3 of 8 below.
  • 03 of 08

    Singe the Prickles off the Prickly Pear Fruit

    1. Use tongs to remove a prickly pear from your collection container. Use the same tongs to hold it over the flame of a gas stove burner.
    2. Turn the fruit so that the flame touches it on all sides including the ends.
    3. Drop into a bowl and repeat with the next fruit until you've done all of the prickly pear fruits. If you don't have a gas stove, you can use a lighter, or grill the fruits over hot coals or a gas grill.
    Continue to 4 of 8 below.
  • 04 of 08

    Peel and Chop the Prickly Pears

    1. Cut the ends off of the prickly pear fruits.
    2. Use a paring knife to peel them.
    3. Chop the seedy pulp into approximately 1-inch chunks.
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Simmer the Prickly Pear Pulp

    1. Put the chopped prickly pear pulp into a large heavy pot.
    2. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring often until the chunks fall apart and you have a soupy, seedy stew.
    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    Remove the Prickly Pear Seeds

    1. Run the simmered prickly pear pulp through a food mill. If you don't have a food mill, pour the cooked pulp a little at a time into a sieve or fine-holed colander.
    2. Press the liquid and pulp through with the back of a wooden spoon.
    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    Cook the Prickly Pear Liquid With Sugar and Lemon

    1. Measure the strained prickly pear liquid and any pulp. Return to the large pot you originally cooked the chunks of prickly pears in.
    2. For every cup of prickly pear liquid, add 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Also add the peel (including the white, pithy part) of half a lemon for every 2 cups of prickly pear liquid. The lemon peel provides pectin so that you get a good gel. Be sure to use only organically grown lemons as you don't want pesticides in your prickly pear jelly!
    3. Cook over high heat, stirring often until it reaches the ​​gel point.
    Continue to 8 of 8 below.
  • 08 of 08

    Fill Jars and Seal

    1. Remove the lemon peel.
    2. Fill clean jars with the prickly pear jelly. Fasten lids and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. It is not necessary to sterilize the jars if you are using this refrigerator method.
    3. Alternatively, pour the jelly into sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. The advantage of this method is that the jelly can be stored at room temperature on a shelf until it is opened. The disadvantage is that occasionally prickly pear jelly separates and turns into a bitter goop when processed (I stick to the refrigerator method).