Cactus fig are a classic fruit that abounds in late summer in many warm areas of the world. Prickly pear jam, often erroneously called prickly pear marmalade, is a great way to preserve this fruit and enjoy it even in cold seasons. We’ve already discussed how to cultivate prickly pears and the various varieties of this extraordinary fruit. Now it’s time to use them in a simple and tasty recipe. The process is no different from making many other homemade jams, such as plum jam or fig jam.
So, let’s explore step by step how to make this delicious prickly pear jam through a detailed photo gallery. But first, let’s begin with harvesting the fruit.
Harvesting Prickly Pears
Our prickly pear jam recipe starts with the harvest of the fruit. Prickly pears ripen towards the end of summer, usually between August and September. In many areas, the harvest can extend into October. To determine if a fruit is ripe, look at the color of the skin; the darker it is, the riper the fruit.
Prickly pears are fruits that can be easily found growing wild, especially in southern regions. Many are fortunate enough to cultivate them and bring them to regions where they don’t grow naturally. If you purchase them from a fruit vendor, make sure of their origin. Buying Italian products is a guarantee of quality and supports our farmers.
Harvesting this fruit requires some precautions. Prickly pears are known for their annoying spines, which can be easily spread by the wind. So, equip yourself with good gloves, preferably with reinforced bottoms.
There are also specific tools like this one, which allow you to limit direct contact with the spines and collect fruits even from the tallest parts of the plant. In our case, since we harvested prickly pears in an accessible location, we took the risk using only pliers and scissors.
How to Remove Prickly Pear Spines
Since at least 30% of the pulp is contained in the skin and should not be wasted, we recommend using the whole fruit for making prickly pear jam. This raises the question of how to remove the spines from prickly pears, as they can be troublesome during processing and should not end up in the jam. Here’s how to proceed:
- The first step is to clean the skin under running water, using pliers, of course.
- After this initial wash, soak them in lukewarm water for about an hour. Prolonged contact with water makes most of the spines fall off.
- Change the water every 20 minutes to remove the spines that have fallen off the fruits.
- The final and most laborious step is to clean the fruit’s surface with a brush or a kitchen sponge (abrasive side).
By doing this, prickly pears will be perfectly clean and free of spines, and you can use them with the skin intact. The last photo shows the final result of this painstaking work.
How to Make Prickly Pear Jam
Like any homemade preserve, making prickly pear jam follows the guidelines for the correct preparation of food preserves at home. This ensures the avoidance of risks related to pathogens like botulism. With that said, let’s look at the ingredients for our prickly pear jam.
Here are the simple ingredients for homemade prickly pear jam:
- 1 kg of prickly pears, cleaned of spines but with the skin;
- 200 g of brown sugar;
- Juice of 1/2 organically grown lemon;
As with any homemade jam, sugar and lemon are the basic ingredients for good preservation.
Sterilizing the Jars
A preliminary step before preparing prickly pear jam is sterilizing the jars. This can be done in two ways:
- Boiling in water for 20 minutes;
- In the oven at 150 °C (300 °F) for 15 minutes.
Here you can find a variety of jars for your homemade preserves.
The Prickly Pear Jam Recipe Process
Let’s see step by step how to make prickly pear jam.
- After cleaning the spines from the prickly pears, cut off the flat end using a knife;
- After removing this part, cut the fruit into small pieces and place them in a non-stick pan;
- Add the brown sugar;
- Place the mixture on low heat. The flame should be low;
- Stir frequently with a wooden spoon and bring it to a gentle boil. This takes about 25 minutes;
Once this is done, you’ll need to proceed with the final steps, which we’ll detail further. These steps are:
- Removing the seeds;
- Performing a second cooking to thicken the jam;
- Transferring the jam into sterilized jars;
- Creating a vacuum seal.
Removing Seeds with a Food Mill
Once you’ve reached a gentle boil, you’ll have a fairly homogeneous prickly pear jam. This is the time to remove the seeds present in the fruit pulp. These seeds are hard and tasteless, so it’s best to get rid of them. This operation can be easily done using a simple stainless steel food mill like this one. In this step, not only are the seeds removed but also the outermost part of the skin, which lacks pulp. From the photos below, you can see that the food mill produces a dense liquid, but it’s free from impurities.
After using the food mill, you need to resume cooking the prickly pear jam to thicken it. This step takes about 30 minutes. The cooking should be done over low heat, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes, add the juice of half a lemon and continue with the final minutes of cooking. The heat should be turned off when the mixture becomes dense. To determine the right cooking degree, perform the “plate test,” which we have previously explained in the pomegranate jelly recipe. If a drop of jam poured onto the plate adheres and doesn’t slide off quickly, the cooking can be stopped.
Transferring the Prickly Pear Jam into Jars
Now it’s time to pour our still-warm prickly pear jam into the sterilized jars. You can use a small kitchen ladle for this operation. Seal the jars tightly and turn them upside down overnight to create a vacuum seal.
How to Store Prickly Pear Jam
From 1 kg of prickly pears with skin (net weight), we obtained about 600 g of jam. The yield isn’t very high, but the taste is exceptional. The aroma and flavor it releases are fantastic. This jam can be used in numerous ways. It can accompany cheeses in a delightful appetizer, be the main ingredient in a tart, or simply be enjoyed as is during moments of pure pleasure. If stored in a dry pantry away from heat sources, the jam will keep for 6 months. Once opened, store it in the fridge and consume it within a week.