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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Prickly Pear Fruits Not All the Same for Jams

Q. I have Indian cactus and each year they grow flowers that have a bulb or fruit coming from the pads about 3 inches tall. I have been told that these bulbs make great jams. Is this true and if so, can you tell me how to make this jam?

Red fruits (tunas) of nopal cactus. The flesh of the fruit is
removed from the tuna by cutting the ends off and partially
slicing the fruit lengthwise.
A. What you call the Indian cactus, we now more commonly call the Nopal cactus because of its Mexican heritage. When nopal cactus pads are prepared as human food they are then called nopalitos. 

            Nopal cactus is harvested in Mexico for three purposes; fresh vegetable, fruits and animal or livestock feed. These plants are native to Central America, in particular the arid parts of Mexico and Central America, and are a staple part of their diet. I might add nopal cactus has some great documented health benefits related to lowering high blood pressure, lowering the incidence of diabetes and provide a lot of dietary fiber.
Nopal cactus pad about at the right stage for harvesting
for fresh vegetable. the spines are removed, washed
and used fresh or cooked. The taste resembles a cross
between aparagus and green beans with the texture of okra.

            Not all nopal cacti are the same in quality when used for fresh fruits and vegetables. Generally speaking if your nopal cactus is producing fruits but the birds are not devouring them when they are ripe, you will probably not like them either. However, if the birds love to devour these fruits then you are in business.

            There are selections of nopal cactus that are superior in these regards. I was growing two of these selections provided to me by faculty from the University of Sonora. These selections were nearly spineless.

            But when you grow nopal cactus for food you have to push their growth with frequent irrigations (every two weeks in the summer) and fertilizer and plant them with lots of compost. I will post more information on the nopal cactus and how to make this jam on my blog.

Jam of Prickly Pear
2.2 lbs (1kg) of prickly pear fruit (tunas) peeled (15 tunas approximately)
3 1/2 cups of sugar (840 g)
1 tablespoon of pectin
1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Cut prickly pears in pieces and blend only half of them. Keep the rest. (Because the seeds are very hard, I pureed all the fruit and strained the pulp.) Put blended fruit into a pan and cook over medium heat; as soon as it begins to boil, add the pectin, the sugar and the lemon juice. Keep stirring the mixture constantly with the spoon. Once it starts the first boil, while stirring, add the remaining fruit if you desire. Remove the jam from the heat when it acquires a thick consistency and when shaking pan the bottom can be seen (more or less after one hour). Put the hot jam into the sterilized container immediately. (Our test jam cooked more quickly.  Be careful not to overcook.)

Packaging and Preservation for safety
On a dry cloth, place the sterilized bottles or jars. Pour in the still hot jam, with the help of a spoon, leaving a minimum space of a half inch between the mouth of the bottle and the jam. Allow some steam to escape and close it tightly to form vacuum. Let cool to room temperature and place a label in the bottle with the product name and date. Jam will be ready for its consumption in 12 hours after it was prepared. This jam will keep for a year in a fresh and dry place. Once opened, the jam must be refrigerated and consumed in a month.

Alternative ingredients:
The lemon juice can be replaced by ¼ tablespoon of ascorbic acid or one crushed Vitamin C tablet of 500mg.

To keep the jam in good condition, sterilize the bottles and the cover in the following way: wash them thoroughly, retire the labels and put them to boil (with enough water so they keep cover all time) during 15 minutes counted from the first fervor or boiling. Taking off by far care, with the aid of clamps or a knife in a hand and a dry rag in the other; place the bottle and the cover on a totally dry and clean cloth (if no, the bottle can be broken). Do not touch the jam with the hands when it is still hot, since it can cause a serious burn.

To take a small taste of the jam before complete the heat treatment, take a few with a spoon, drain it in a plate, and leave it to cool completely.

Jam of Nopalitos
300 g (3/4lb.) of clean and sliced nopales into little squares (approximately 3 large pads)
200 g (1 1/4cup) of sugar
1 cup of boiled or chlorinated water (drinkable water)
1 dry maize leaf (those used for making tamales)
2 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 pinch of sodium bicarbonate

Cook nopalitos in a pot with sufficient water and the maize leaf until they are soft.  Remove maize leaf and discard. Drain the nopalitos in the strainer, rinse them with cold water and separate ¼ cup to use them later. Blend the rest of nopalitos to obtain a purée. Put purée and sugar into large pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with spoon for 10 minutes. When it begins to boil, add the lemon juice, bicarbonate and the nopales that were keep before. Skim off the foam that is formed with stirring mixture. When the mixture is clear and thick, jam is ready. Remove from heat. For extra punch, add 3 finely minced Serrano chilies.

Packaging and preserving: 
Put the jam, still hot, into the sterilized jars. Allow ½ inch space between the jam and the mouth of the container. Before closing the container tightly, allow steam to escape to form a vacuum. Before consuming the jam, let cool at room temperature for 12 hours.  The jam may be processed in a water bath for longer shelf life. Label with name and date. The jam is conserved until by eight months. Once the jam is open, it should be refrigerated.

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