A residential alley in a large Southwestern city. Not scary, but not the best part of town.
Back fences, the spoor of the bum:
Looking into the back yards, some of these primitives even have animal parts on their fences.
Earlier, a couple of shady characters headed down that alley. What were they up to? Why the leather gloves, empty beer flats, and tongs in their hands? The answer is in the bottom left corner of the first photo. Let's look closer:
That's it, nestled amongst those spines: tuna. Now you can see the reason for the gloves and tongs. That fruit has stickers of its own:
Sure enough, those early morning skulkers came back with pounds of prickly fruit:
Said fruit was peeled, cut up, then boiled.
Once softened, the tuna was mashed, then the juice strained from the pulp. A closeup of the seeds might make a good Halloween poster: eyes......magenta eyes!
Let us repair to a recipe. After the addition of lemon juice, pectin, then sugar, the prickly pear juice gets cooked into jelly:
Skulkers' purpose revealed, mystery of the purloined cactus resolved.
Growing up in West Texas, we picked a bunch of prickly pear tuna, burned off the spines, then my mother made them into jelly. I recall glochids in fingers (actually, cactus spines in fingers was a pretty common experience for anyone spending much time outside around there), Mom being disappointed in the resulting jelly, and eating said jelly on peanut butter sandwiches for a good long time. Recently, talking to Mom about that experience, she recalled that the recipe came from Texas Parks and Wildlife and that the texture of the jelly wasn't great, nor the flavor particularly strong or notable. I remembered the taste as being good, but nothing about the texture of the jelly. Immature palates and all that.
The last year or two, I've been meaning to try making prickly pear jelly myself. People come to the Southwest and plant cactus. Why, I can't imagine except for naivete, or the specific purpose of keeping folks back from your fence or yard. Even then, you have to put up with cactus in your yard. In any event, tuna is all over town and no one seems to do anything with it- you can see it falling and rotting all over the place. Last year the season got away from us, but this year A and I did a little gathering around our neighborhood and put up two batches of jelly.
Tasting this jelly, I remembered that other from childhood. The flavor is also reminiscent of Jolly Ranchers (that is to say, the original Jolly Rancher that was a sort of a bar, and came in two flavors, as I recall- kinda apple and kinda watermelon-dang, I quit eating candy for twenty-some years and everything changes). The jelly tastes of watermelon and a bit of strawberry, although there is a green, earthy note on the finish that the candies can't boast. Not the best jelly in the world, I'd happily trade it for rose hip, which is going to be a real favorite. Still this is better than most anything commercial and might really appeal to folks who like subtle jelly. Further, the price of the fruit was right and it adds some nice variety to the pantry.
Taste aside, it is one of the prettiest jellies I've ever seen.
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