Introduction: Prickly Pear Syrup
Prickly Pears are a complicated but incredible fruit in the Southwest. Once you know how to harvest and prepare them, you wont be able to resist. . . but keep in mind that Prickly Pears are powerful plants who should be respected (they do bite back) and maintained. Harvest only what you need and care for the living world around you.
All of the materials should be easily located in any house. For handling the prickly pears I suggest heavy gloves, long tongs, and a bowl for collecting. When it comes to preparing you will need some form of fire (I used a gas stove), a blender or potato masher, and a cheesecloth. For the ingredients to our syrup all you need is sugar and lime juice. With your supplies ready you can get started harvesting!
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Step 1: Harvesting the Pears
The prickly pear fruit is easily picked with long tongs, do wear your gloves so even if you bump the plant you spend the next couple hours making syrup not picking spines from your hand. With your tongs you gently clamp on a fruit and twist. A ripe fruit should pop right off, and you can place it into your bowl.
Be mindful of those who we share the plants with, always harvest fruits that won't disrupt animals who have made a home there. Leave at least one to two fruits on each pad when you harvest so there is food leftover and the plant can attempt to propagate. If you live in an area where prickly pears aren't common or blooming try an international grocery store, they typically carry incredible stocks of prickly pear fruit, also known as Tunas.
Step 2: Preparing the Prickly Pears
Now that you have your prickly pears lets work on getting those spines off. If you picked up your pears at a super market you may be able to skip this step, most spines have been removed from store bought pears but this step can help ensure your pears are prickle free.
We will be burning the spines off so make sure you are extra careful with this step. You can either use your tongs to hold the pears or you can use an ice pick to hold the pear in the flame. Once you start to burn the spines you will also blister the skin, that is okay! Work to ensure all of the spines burn off and you are left with a glossy finish on your pears.
Step 3: Separating Pulp From Juice
With spineless, glossy pears you are ready to prepare your juice. As soon as you burn the spines off you can put all of your pears in a bowl of water. Soaking can help to get any debris off of the fruit. Once you soak them you have two options to make juice.
The first is mashing, its easy to mash up prepared fruit with a potato masher, just make sure the fruit is evenly crushed. The second is blending, simply put all of the fruit in a blender and blend. You may have to add a little water in both steps to ensure the fruit is reduced fully. You do not have to peel the fruit before mashing or blending because we will separate the pulp from the juice with cheesecloth.
Once you have made a fruit juice blend you need to run the mixture through cheese cloth or a fine mesh colander. I prefer cheese cloth because I can give it an extra little squeeze to make sure I get all of the juice. You can use a spoon to press the mix in a colander for the same effect.
Step 4: Finishing the Syrup
Once you have the juice separated from the pulp you are ready to cook it down. Add equal parts pear juice to sugar in a small sauce pot and turn up the heat. The sugar may not fully dissolve until you get to a low simmer. Your goal now is simply to boil until the syrup thickens. We are making a syrup so it can take quite a while, I like to stop before it gets too thick because it mixes better in drinks when it is thinner. If you are looking for a pancake syrup consistency it will take longer.
Once simmered and thickened you can add lime juice to taste, with the fruit I collected (a dozen pears) I use the juice of a full lime. Your syrup is now ready and you can use it for anything that needs an extra kick of sweet prickly pear. I prefer to mix mine into a bit of ice cold seltzer water for fruity drink. Enjoy the beautiful color and delicious taste of sweet prickly pear juice!
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