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September 2, 2015

Papa’s Prickly Pear Paradise

The whole family is currently in the thrall of prickly pears and their fruit.

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Abe has been into prickly pears as a crop for a year or so, and his enthusiasm has now really caught on with the rest of us.

  • The pads make a great vegetable, which the whole family really likes.
  • They are very high in calcium and potassium, to name but two of its nutritional benefits.
  • They require no irrigation whatsoever where we live (between 20” and 35” of rain from June through October, a couple of hard freezes each winter, and highs of 110 degrees).
  • They can be grown along fences as a very effective predator barrier.
  • The fruit are delicious, and make excellent jelly, syrup, and wine.
Planting

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When Abe originally told me that he wanted to plant 5000 prickly pears over the next few years, I kind of smiled and patted him gently on the shoulder. However, we have now started gathering pads for real and that goal seems easily attainable.

Last year, he cut five pads from a cold-tolerant, spineless variety, which he planted in and around the forest garden. This year, he was able to cut and plant 22 pads off of those original five, and even since he did that they have re-grown so that we could probably cut another 20. These will be used mainly for the pads as a vegetable, and will be planted close to the house.

Last year, he also planted about 100 pads with spines around the contours of the property. These are designed to help mark future swales that we wish to make. Not only do they show the contour, but they also help retain run-off.

This year, we have gathered at least another 150 pads of various different kinds. When we cut a pad, we generally leave it a couple of weeks for the “wound” to callous before planting it. Plating is easy, just make a small hole and plant the pad vertically, with about half below ground We have had almost zero losses propagating them this way.

This year’s harvest are almost ready and so we’ll soon be planting them every 6 feet or so around the perimeter fence. Then, next year, we will be able to take pads from those and fill the space between plants. After a few years, this will become continuous, impenetrable wall of spines encircling the property.

Recipe

Every time we have cut pads, the kids have helped, but what they really like is picking the fruit. We have done a couple of picking sessions, now that the fruit are ripe, and have gathered a total of about 60 lb. Each member of the family has their own tongs, as the fruit and pads usually have spines. We are constantly adding to our list of prickly pear picking rules. Number one on the list is never use your hands. The latest addition came at Leo and his tongue’s expense: do NOT lick the juice off your tongs!!!!

We have made a bunch of jelly and syrup. Here’s the recipe we used:

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  • 4 cups prickly pear juice (4 lb fruit)
  • 1/2 cup lime or lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp low sugar pectin (for syrup, you don’t need this and you can reduce the amount of sugar)
  1. Wash the fruit.
  2. Using tongs, cut the fruit into quarters.
  3. Put about an inch of water in a large pot and add the fruit.
  4. Heat for about 20 minutes or until the fruit is soft.
  5. Mash with a potato masher.
  6. Strain through a colander to get all the big stuff out.
  7. Strain the juice through nylon or cheese cloth (a little at a time, as the cloth clogs up easily).
  8. Heat the juice of the fruit and lime to a boil.
  9. Mix the pectin and 1/4 cup of sugar together and add to the juice.
  10. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  11. Add the rest of the sugar and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly.
  12. Boil for 1 minute.
  13. Pour into sterilized jars, up to 1/4” from the rim.
  14. Wipe rims and sides with a clean cloth.
  15. Finger tighten lids.
  16. Submerge cans in a canner full of hot water (with 1” or 2” of water more than the height of the jars).
  17. Boil for 15 minutes (we are at 6300 ft, so less is needed if you’re at lower altitude).

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