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Yeppers, the deep burgundy knobs on top of Prickly pears that develop in the fall are the source of a fantastic tasting juice that has been associated with numerous health benefits. It is apparently much better known for its exquisite taste in Italy and France than in the US (excluding some in Southwestern states). Be forewarned the pursuit of the tunas (that's the name of the fruit) is fraught with spiny obstacles - the cactus pads have LARGE NEEDLE_LIKE SPINES & the fruits have deceptive little bumps that are composed of tiny hair-like spines just a few millimeters long that work into the fingers of the unwary - must go prepared & protected. After several harvesting forays I have concluded the thick latex dish washing gloves that go midway up my forearm seem to afford the best protection. But it is worth it! The juice is mildly astringent with an initial taste reminiscent of raspberries and blueberries and an aftertaste that is delicately floral, not unlike the floral essence of rambutans. The beautiful magenta jelly has prompted all tasters to tentatively savor the initial dab & immediately dig in for more! Have your jars washed & waiting in simmering hot water bath before starting & put lids in to simmer when bringing strained juice to a boil. Note - prep time does not include stalking the fruit! We are lucky because the condos across the street use these for landscaping and it takes less than 10 minutes to harvest a colander full!
- Harvest tunas (prickly pear fruits) wearing thick gloves. A 2 quart colander full to top should yield about 8 cups juice. Be sure to include a few that still are a wee bit green if possible. Do NOT handle these with bare hands (you will be sorry because they are deceptive- she writes while gnawing at her right thumb pad - LOL).
- Rinse the fruits in a colander (we have a lot of salt spray here). Then put them in a large nonreactive kettle with the 2 cups of water. Cover & bring to rapid simmer. Simmer until fruit soft - about 30 minutes.
- Ladle now mushy fruits into blender & blend with enough water to make thick slurry. Ok to do this after fruits cool if this recipe has been too high risk up to this point. Otherwise blend when hot but be sure to hold down blender lid with a thick cloth between it & your hand because boiling brilliant magenta juice with tiny tiny spines REALLY hurts! (Clorox cleanup gets it off countertops & walls).
- Pour blended fruits back into pan with residual water & stir.
- Drape 4 layers of cheesecloth in colander (which should sit in another pot or bowl) & dampen.
- Pour or ladle then pour the brilliant magenta fruit slurry into the cheesecloth & gather the edges to twist and squeeze the juice out (need to wait a bit if the mush inside is still hot). Your hands will be stained brilliant magenta if you opt not to wear gloves but the cheesecloth effectively sieves out any little spines.
- Rinse out the initial kettle (use those gloves just to be safe) and pour the strained juice back into it. Add lemon juice. Heat to boil & add the 2 packets of powdered pectin. Bring to a hard boil for 1-2 minutes.
- Add 7 cups of sugar, blend well & bring to a hard boil for 2 minutes.
- Ladle into sterilized 1 cup jars, lid & process in covered hot water bath for 20 minutes. Leave 1/2 inch headroom when filling jars & be sure to have jars in hot water bath covered by at least 2 inches of water.
- Remove from bath & place on flat towel on counter. Jars should "pop" within 5 minutes. ENJOY!