Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe

UPDATE: I’ve concocted a lower sugar version of this recipe that I like better. See that recipe here. Also, see our method of drying prickly pear fruit.

Folks in cold places will have to excuse our temporary bout of Prickly Pear mania, but we’ve got a hell of a lot of cactus fruit to deal with this season. Next year we’ll take a crack at making
a batch of Tiswin, the sacred beer of the Papagos Indians of central Mexico (usually made with saguaro fruit but prickly pear fruit will do in a pinch). This August we’re making jelly.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Taking reader Steven’s (of the fine blog Dirt Sun Rain) suggestion, burn off the nasty spines by holding the fruit over a burner on the stove for a few seconds. Using the non-cutting edge of a knife held at a 90º angle to the fruit, scrape off what remains of the spines (technically called glochids).

2.There are many methods described on the interenets for extracting the juice. The way we have found best is to slice the fruit (you need not skin it) into quarters and put in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and strain the juice and water through a colander with two layers of cheesecloth to remove the seeds and pulp.

3. We’ve found that 2 1/2 pounds of fruit will yield a little over 2 1/2 cups of juice using the method above.

4. We use a recipe from the Jamlady Cookbook, by Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker.

Here’s the recipe:
2 1/2 cups prickly pear cactus juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 box of powdered pectin (18 teaspoons-note that not all pectin brands contain the same amount in a box, so measure it out to make sure)

Hard boil cactus fruit juice, pectin and lemon juice for 3 minutes. Hard boil means the point at which the brew still bubbles even when you stir it. Add sugar and bring back to a hard boil for 2 minutes or until the jell point is reached.

5. Put in 8 once canning jars, seal and heat process for 10 minutes. We followed the canning
instructions on the Ball website for high-acid foods
.

Unlike many other cactus jelly recipes on the internets that we have tried unsuccessfully, this one works. The proof is pictured above.

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86 Comments

  1. We did not can the Prickly Pear Jelly – well, turned into more of a syrup really. We’re trying it on all kinds of stuff as a replacement for honey.

    Any luck or ideas for a way to reduce the slime factor you get from this fruit?

  2. Easiest way to juice the cactus fruit is to put them in the freezer. When they thaw they just fall apart into a mush and can easily be mashed and juiced as describe above with no cooking. The less handling of these thorny devils, the better!

  3. I’ve been looking for recipes and yours came up. Most say that I need to do the “wax” thing to the jars…add the melted wax. I am downloading Balls instructions, but can you tell me if that’s necessary in your recipe?
    Thanks!

  4. Why did my jelly turn honey colored after the water bath canning? It was a beautiful purpley pink when I ladeled it into the jars. Also, can I use lime juice instead of lemon? Thanks for any help you can provide.

  5. Anonymous, I guess I got to say I don’t know. Perhaps another reader can answer your questions. My prickly pear fruit is orange colored and I haven’t noticed any fade. As for substituting lime juice, I also don’t know. With canning, I like to stick to the recipe.

  6. Someone mentioned to roll fruit over gravel and the spines will come fall off. Is August the best month to pick fruit because ours look ready now and the critters are eating them?

  7. How many ounces of jelly does this recipe make? It says use 8 oz jars but how many jars does it produce?

  8. I know that this post has been up for a while… but I found this last year and have since made 68 pints of this jelly. It is an incredible find! This Saturday we will make an estimated 140-160 pints. I do have some tips/tricks that I have learned along the way that will help to answer some of the questions above.

    For processing the fruit:

    I picked them with bbq tongs and dumped them into a large tub where I swished them around to wash them and break off the spines. I definitely wore gloves but it worked out very well for me. I didn’t burn them off because I wanted to get any bird presents/bugs off of them before I canned them.

    I did cook them on a slow boil for 15-20 minutes to make them softer and then ran them through the blender. Yes, the blender. I strained the pulp out through a variety of methods- cheese cloth, strainer, pantyhose… and the one that worked the best for me was pantyhose (new of course). I put a few ladle fulls in the foot, twisted it around and squished out the juice. Out of 15ish pounds of fruit I got 22.5 cups of juice. It was a lot of work but it was definitely worth it. (btw- the left over pulp is great in the garden or compost pile)

    For the jelly turning brown:

    I had two batches that turned brown on me. They were always the last batch of the day and the ones that I was the most tired while making. I over cooked it just a bit too long or didn’t remove it from the hot burner when I was putting it in the jars- so it cooked longer. Cooking time was my brown jelly culprit.

    For the batch that turned out as syrup:

    I really thought about reprocessing that batch- but in the end I just left it alone. We used it as syrup on pancakes and French toast, ice cream topping and… well… jelly. It turned out great and everyone really liked it. In fact, this year, I have had two requests from my friends for the jelly and the syrup. Now, if I could do it on purpose I would be set…. umm…. unset?

    Lime instead of Lemon:

    This was really more a personal preference than a requirement. I know someone who is allergic to lemons but not limes (who knew that was possible)- so I replaced the lemon juice with lime juice in the last few batches. It made just a slight change in the taste in a pleasant way and I really liked it better than with lemon. Y’all might find it good to try.

    Thanks for the recipe- I don’t think that my family would know what to do without the cactus jelly!

  9. I know that this post has been up for a while… but I found this last year and have since made 68 pints of this jelly. It is an incredible find! This Saturday we will make an estimated 140-160 pints. I do have some tips/tricks that I have learned along the way that will help to answer some of the questions above.

    For processing the fruit:

    I picked them with bbq tongs and dumped them into a large tub where I swished them around to wash them and break off the spines. I definitely wore gloves but it worked out very well for me. I didn’t burn them off because I wanted to get any bird presents/bugs off of them before I canned them.

    I did cook them on a slow boil for 15-20 minutes to make them softer and then ran them through the blender. Yes, the blender. I strained the pulp out through a variety of methods- cheese cloth, strainer, pantyhose… and the one that worked the best for me was pantyhose (new of course). I put a few ladle fulls in the foot, twisted it around and squished out the juice. Out of 15ish pounds of fruit I got 22.5 cups of juice. It was a lot of work but it was definitely worth it. (btw- the left over pulp is great in the garden or compost pile)

    For the jelly turning brown:

    I had two batches that turned brown on me. They were always the last batch of the day and the ones that I was the most tired while making. I over cooked it just a bit too long or didn’t remove it from the hot burner when I was putting it in the jars- so it cooked longer. Cooking time was my brown jelly culprit.

    For the batch that turned out as syrup:

    I really thought about reprocessing that batch- but in the end I just left it alone. We used it as syrup on pancakes and French toast, ice cream topping and… well… jelly. It turned out great and everyone really liked it. In fact, this year, I have had two requests from my friends for the jelly and the syrup. Now, if I could do it on purpose I would be set…. umm…. unset?

    Lime instead of Lemon:

    This was really more a personal preference than a requirement. I know someone who is allergic to lemons but not limes (who knew that was possible)- so I replaced the lemon juice with lime juice in the last few batches. It made just a slight change in the taste in a pleasant way and I really liked it better than with lemon. Y’all might find it good to try.

    Thanks for the recipe- I don’t think that my family would know what to do without the cactus jelly!

  10. Darn it, this recipe didn’t jell. I followed it to the letter too.
    grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
    The only explanation for me is the pectin expired on April 2, 2009 and to date this is August 17th, 2009.

  11. Okay, we are getting ready to try this for the first time, and I have what I know is a dumb question. After you boil them, do you drain them before you mash and sieve them? If not, is there a way to make sure that I don’t have too much water and end up with dilute juice?

  12. It’s prickly pear fruit season again!

    As for the last comment–it’s been over a year since I last used this recipe, so bear with me, but as I recall I did not drain the water. I just used enough water to cover the fruit. Worked well.

  13. I made prickly pear jelly for the first time last summer. My batches are perfect everytime. An easy way I found to juice fruit is to use a juicer. No need to remove spines. Or even boil fruit. I use a Jack Lalanne Juicer. Just remember to clean out pulp and seeds every so often because of how many seeds build up. I also have never used powdered pectin as I’ve always heard it makes jelly more liquidy. I have always used the Certo brand liquid pectin. My batches turn out wonderful everytime.

  14. We just made a double batch today and it turned out PERFECT! It was our first time making cactus jelly. We burned off the spines (fondue fork worked great!) and then we popped them into the juicer. We then ran the juice through a sieve several times and finally through a coffee filter (lining the sieve). We also used fresh lemon juice, which may have made a difference because I read that the acidity helps the pectin to set. Anywhoo… we are very happy, well fed, campers tonight! Thank you!!!

  15. I am making some this morning. Just picked a bucket of tunas. I also use a JLL juicer. It makes the job soooo much easier. The juice stays brightly colored. I also do not boil mine too much so it stays pink. One year I cooked it down as a reduction with sugar and it turned color on me. This year, I am adding some pectin. Also, be sure to skim the foam off the top.

    We like to use the fresh juice in champagne and in margaritas without canning it, but it does not last more than a couple of days in the fridge.

  16. I didn’t have enough lemons in the house so I mixed lemon with limes, also, I used 2 cups of splenda blend (1/2 cup of Splenda Blend equals 1 cup of sugar)for a lower calorie jelly and had to cook it longer to get it to a jell point since there was one less cup of sugar from what above calls for, but once it hit that point it was awesome! Deep red, tart and sweet! My husband turned his nose up at first but after trying it- can’t get enough of it now!!

  17. You do not have to burn the spines off! The cooking process makes them soft and they disappear. Just wash the spider webs and bird poopies off and cut in half and boil down, straining through cheesecloth for the juice. I’ve been making this jelly for years and love it!

  18. Do you use the round cactus “fruits”, or the flat “tunas”? Both are available at the corner market, but the “fruits” are seasonal and the “tunas” are almost always there. I will try the “fruits” this time, but has anyone tried the flat “tunas”?

  19. Hey Anonymous,

    The pads are called nopalitos in Spanish and the fruit is called tuna. You use the nopalitos like a vegetable–it can be fried, roasted, used raw in salads and salsas and added to water to make a drink. It’s quite good and easy to grow if you’re in the southwest. The fruit appears in the fall and the pads (you eat the young ones) mostly in the spring.

  20. Yay it works! Here is the result with some link love for the help

    http://www.isitmondayalready.com/2009/09/watch-out-martha-stewart-here-i-come.html

  21. 1st time ever making jelly an it came out perfect, looks just like grape jelly. Finally found a use for the cactus in the yard, mom will be proud of her son. Thanks for the help :)

  22. My son and I enjoy cooking together and we made some of this fabulous Cactus jelly. It came out perfect just like the recipe at the top. We had been discussing Cactus-Jalapeno jelly but I did not grow any jalapeno’s this year, however I had Serranos. We diced about 12 Serranos up very fine and added to this recipe. My friends have raved about it! It is excellent with cream cheeese and crackers!

  23. After my third prickly pear fruit season and numerous attempts to make ‘jelly’ with other recipes, this recipe was dead on…except that I just realized that I was adding 3/4 more sugar than listed…however, it worked just fine. I’ve made 48, 1/2 pint jars of jelly, and I still have another 36 jars to process and another cactus plant to harvest in my neighbor’s yard. I am sooo excited and am now a jelly making fool! :) Cactus jelly year round…

  24. I realize this is an old one, but I figured I’d make a comment…

    The recipe I use calls for 1 1/2 tablespoon of pectin, 2 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of sugar per cup of juice.

    Since I am usually making fairly large batches, I rounded up the recipe to:
    6 cups prickly pear juice
    1/2 cup pectin
    2/3 cup lemon/lime juice
    6 to 9 cups sugar.

    I prefer to use lime juice, as I like the flavor better and I think it compliments our pears nicely. I usually make the batch with 8 cups of sugar for a nice sweet-tart flavor. Our pears a a deep maroon-purple and the jelly turns magenta pink. I have my husband burn the glochids off large batches of fruit with a torch on the picnic table…he can get all sides that way.

    I’ll cut off the scarred blossom-end, any scabs and scars from rubbing against spines, barbed-wire, or insect damage, and cut them into 8ths. Cover with water, and boil for about 20-30 minutes, mashing with a potato masher a couple times during cooking. Turn off the heat and let sit with a lid on to cool for a bit and mash again. I drain most of the juice through a large mesh sieve, then mash AGAIN, then run it all through cheesecloth and sqeeze till I can’t squeeze n’more. I’ll measure out whatever juice I feel like processing right then, and refrigerate the rest till later, or the next day.

    Our prickly pear jelly has a nice berry-apple flavor to it. I’ve tried drying peeled and seeded sections in the dehydrator…my 9year old likes them, but I dont care much for the flavor and texture. Maybe I’ll try making some roll-ups or candies.

  25. You are entirely too full of yourself, and take something that should be good reading and turn it into a really disgusting blog post, showing little to no understanding of what you are posting about.
    Hint, don’t insult everyone you talk about, it just makes you look like a fool!

  26. Throw your tunas in a small,clean concrete mixer.Add water to cover.Turn it on for a few mins.Drain,Repeat,and et voila,clean and no thorns

  27. We live on an island in Greece, and pick tons and tons of these each year. To remove the pulp, I cut the pears in 2, hold them with a fork and scoop the stuff out with a teaspoon. Fast and easy!

    This is a very sweet fruit to start with, so I use about 3/4 ln sugar for 1 lb fruit/juice, but I make jam, so I use both the juice and the pulp. I put a bit more lemon juice and I put the zest of 1 lemon, cut in thin strips. It takes away some of the sweetness and it’s like candy to eat once cooked.

  28. I live in south Texas and this year we have a bumper crop of cactus. I make jelly out of the pare apples, my husband uses them for fish bait and my dogs fight over them like they were bones ! ! ! Who new? I liked all the hints and coments. My family likes the jelly & so do all my friends !!!!! Jelly forever ! ! !

  29. I add juice of 1 or 2 navel oranges, juice of 1 lemon ,1 or 2 jalapenos seeded & deveined,zest of 1or2 oranges & lemon zest a bit of pineapple juice to my jelly.kicks it up a notch.color looks like the sunset. I like to experiment. Sometimes I will use the white part of the orange after I remove the zest and try to make it look like clouds.If you take the lemon & orange zest & boil it with a little bit of sugar water to soften it & cut the jalapenos into little pieces like the zest it turns out like marmalade but with a sunset color & the peppers give a little surprise here and there.

  30. This was the first year I made Prickly Pear Jelly. In fact I haven’t made any jelly since I was about 8 with my grandmother one summer. So to try something like this was a little uncertain for me. This recipe works so well. I was amazed. If I can do it, anyone can.

    I use tongs to pick the fruit and burn the pricklies off with the burner on my stove. It really works great.

    I have an almost unending supply of fruit. My place of employment is landscaped with cactus of all varietes and have about 6 huge prickly pear cactus with more fruit then I could ever use.

    I have shared my new creation with family, friends and co-workers. Everyone likes it. I am getting married Oct 2010 and decided to make 4oz jelly jars to give as wedding favors. I have about 100 jars of jelly that I am in the process of making.

    Makes a nice gift for someone who is not from the desert area. I have already had a request from a co-work to make some so she can send to her friends on the east coast.

  31. When making jellies, it IS NOT necessary to put into a heat process as this has a tendancy to break down your jelly. If you put hot liquid into hot jars (take the jars straight from the water bath on the stove), seal and invert on your counter, the lids will seal very soon.

  32. @Willa,

    We know many people like yourself who practice the inversion method, and personally I see the logic–it’s hard to see where contamination would get into that system, and at any rate jelly is so sugary it would resist spoilage anyway (unlike, say, green beans). And I haven’t heard of any “inverters” dropping dead from bad jam.

    Yet the Canning Gods (USDA, Ball etc.) say that jelly should be heat processed, and we’ve been following their lead.

  33. I juiced 2 two gallon bags of fruit today. I had taken the freezer method. I let them thaw and they started juicing themselves. I smashed them in the bags then started the straining process. I used 2 different strainers. 1 with larger holes and then restrained with a mesh strainer with a very tight weave. I ended up with 9quarts of juice. We are going to try the recipe at the top of the page. However, I have a question about the amount of sugar. The pectin I bought says no sugar needed. I’m not a big sugar person. Can I cut the sugar in 1/2? We are also going to use the inversion method. My mother has used that method for 40years and her mother before her and never had an issues.

  34. Hey Anonymous,

    I’d be careful deviating from a recipe. That being said I’ve never tried a no-sugar version–if you concoct one that works or find one please let me know as I’m not a sugar fan either.

    I’m sure the inversion method is probably very safe, but the USDA does not recommend it anymore as Mrs. Homegrown notes.

    Good luck and let us know hot it goes.

  35. We have tons of prickly pear fruits in our yard, and I would like to try this recipe. I do have a question though: How do I know when the fruit is ripe? We just now started noticing birds eating them (it is the first week in October)–does this mean they are ripe now?

    Thanks,
    KG–Southern New Mexico

  36. I live in SD in the summer, and we have prickly pear catcus growing wild here. Smaller and lower to the ground than our winter place in AZ, but produces fruit that ripens in early fall. Last year, I waited until after a couple of hard freezes to pick them. Made wonderful syrup.(jelly did not set using the Pima County Extension folks recipe).

  37. Just made my first two batches this morning, Oct 2010. Worked great, tasted great. I washed the fruit, cut them in half and then used a grapefruit spoon to pull the insides out. Didn’t have access to a gas burner and it was after dark so didn’t want to use the barbeque grill. Half of a 5 gallon bucket resulted in a bit over 3 quarts of juice. I put all of the fruit in a pot, filled 1/2 way with purified water and then used a stick blender to pulverized it…. brought to a boil for a couple of minutes. Then strained through cheese cloth. Worked great! As the fruit was “organic”, and I had organic sugar from Costco, I got the organic limes, too. May as well go all of the way… Using these for Christmas gifts this year. Hoping to get 5 batches with 5 pints per batch. OH, 18 teaspoons of the surejell is the same as 6 Tablespoons. Need to figure out a weight on that (more accurate) and will post it when I do. Thanks for the recipe!

  38. So, upon measurement – 1 T of pectin = 12 grams. So, 6 T (or 18 t) would equal 72 grams of pectin. I measured out 6 T and it weighed 74 g… Much easier than counting spoonfuls each time, especially when making multiple batches in one day.

    Oh, and I should have said 5 cups of jelly per batch in my previous comment… my bad.

    Thanks again!

  39. Prickly pear jam is awesome. I make a batch or two every year from a single prickly pear cactus that grows in a big pot in my back yard. Highly recommended!

  40. I live outside of SA, TX and went to a Halal grocery today. I found big oval shaped cactus with no spines on them. Some were green, some yellow. I bought 2lbs thinking I would make some jelly. These aren’t prickly pear but maybe the barrel variety. Any positive help gratefully appreciated.

  41. @Anon: We don’t know anything about these fruits you’ve found. The fruit we use for jelly is definitely the ripe fruit of the prickly pear (tunas) and is orange, red or purple.

    We have seen green tunas for sale at middle eastern markets, but we don’t know what they are used for. If anyone knows, please chime in.

  42. I followed this recipe exactly as it is except for burning off the spines. I soaked all the pears and then scrubbed off the bird stuff and the little spines with a minimum of spines in my hands! I got 5.5 half-pint jars of dark pink goodness. I still have some fruit and juice left over so I’ll cook up another batch! Thanks for this great recipe; I’ve been looking for one every year and I’ll be using this one forever!

  43. i made two piles as i was skinning it and removing the seeds. one was flesh only which i put into the blender and the other was seeds only and i boiled it with a bit of water..strained it.. and then added sugar..and bottled it just like that to add to drinks. the blended flesh i added the lemonjuice and zest and pectin and boiled per instructions and am still waiting to see if it sets properly..the flavor is amazing..God is good.

  44. Here is a better way to handle cactus fruit! pick with tongs place in cheese cloth in the freezer, take out and put in colander over bowl and as they thaw the juice seeps out. Throw away defrosted fruit.

    • Hi Lulu–I’ve heard of this method but haven’t tried it yet. I’ve got a lot of fruit ripening and will give it a try. Thanks!

    • I just tried the freezer method and it WORKS GREAT! this is the first time I have ever made jellies, I picked 20 lb of tunas froze them all and took out 5lb of them, put them in a tea shirt let them thaw out, the skins were already splitting open and no cooking, I squeezed out the juice, no seeds, no splinters, I got 8 cups of juice no trouble at all, it was a trick to keep from getting the juice from getting on anything as it will stain, but I did it,
      no mess in the kitchen at all, I have 8 16 once jars cooling now and they are already starting to jell, can’t wait to taste it

  45. I did the whole shebang years ago by harvesting the pears and cooking into a juice, etc. Made the jelly and it was good. But the time element was more than I wanted to invest so this year I am going to try making it from Prickly pear syrup(which is what you get from the finished processing of the fruit cooking it with sugar and lemon juice.) I will let you know how it works. I will use pectin and put in my cache of interesting jars of all shapes and sizes. Since I cannot do the water bath seal to preserve, I will add a thin layer of wax and call it good. I cot the prickly pear syrup at Sprouts Market and they also have just the Prickly Pear juice(you may have to ask for it as it is in a funky place you would never look.)It is expensive but is worth your time if you value it.

  46. I have been making prickly pear jelly for a number of years and I would like to add what I found that works in the long process of preparation. Living on acres of prickly pear cactus, they are virtually by the hundreds right off my back porch. Quickly I can pick a 5-gallon bucket full. I clean each tuna in seconds this way: I set up my garden hose, medium flow, hands free. I spear each tuna mostly through it from the top end (where the flower was) with a wooden skewer, and brush all sides quickly with a vegetable brush under the running water. Then push the tuna into a clean bucket or bowl with the tip of the brush. Then skewer the next tuna and repeat. Each tuna takes about 5-10 seconds. This cleans poop and loose stickers off in seconds per tuna. I’ve never liked the burning idea. And never do this at your kitchen sink as you will find stickers for days in your whole house! They are easily air born! Pull up a yard chair near your garden hose and enjoy the easy cleaning method.

  47. I make a couple of hundred half pints each autumn and I use the inversion method of sealing every time. No problems. Just make sure you tighten the lid properly before inverting the jar.

  48. Like Marti I followed this recipe and the jelly has a mucus like texture. A spoon of it almost jumps back into the pot. I cooked the fruit for 20minutes. Does it need more cooking to break down the mucus?

    • I recommend the plate test for figuring out the right consistency. Put 2 or 3 plates in the freezer before you begin. When you think you are near the gel point, take a plate out of the freezer and put a spoonful of jelly on it. Take the pot of the heat. Put the plate back in the freezer for one minute. When you take the plate out again push your finger through the jelly. If it wrinkles you are done. If it’s runny you need to cook some more. The consistency on the plate will close to what it will be like in the jar.

  49. I tried this recipe and ended up with a sweet tasting mucas like glop. Not jelly really. Has anyone figured out how to work with the texture? Will it actually solidify and get past the snotty texture it has now? It’s totally gross at this point to my family’s tastes…too bad I need to wait till next year to pick these and try again. Hopefully this batch can be saved somehow…

    • It can be hard to diagnose jelly problems from a distance. It sounds like your jelly might be too loose, which means its undercooked. Hitting the gel point is the trickiest part of the process. See Mr. Homegrown’s response to the previous comment–using the cold plate test can help determine the gel point.

  50. To remove the spines on tuna I put 5 or 6 in a strainer and tumble them around under cold running water. Works great and helps clean the tuna.

  51. I process and seal my juice when the fruit are in season and make jelly or whatever later during the cold weather or when an occasion presents itself. It also helps with a recipe that I can’t get to work because I am not pressed to use the juice immediately. I haven’t tried this tuna recipe yet but have tried many that do not work. Will let you know how I fare.

  52. My husband and I had never tried prickly pear jelly but when a friend brought us a box full of pears and asked if we wanted to try to make some we jumped on the chance. We searched lots of different websites looking for the “best” recipe. This was the only one with only good reviews.. it was easy and turned out perfect. THANK YOU ! We will be making lots more of this.

  53. After our first batch with this recipe turned out so good – we decided to add some jalapeno to our second batch. We minced 2 large strong peppers, (we only removed the stems), and mixed them in at the juice mixture stage. They added a little bit of a bite which my husband and I enjoy. Thank you for a wonderful recipe that really WORKS and is easy to follow.

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