Prickly Pear Jam

A while back I was thinking about making prickly pear jam. Guess seeing the beautiful red fruit just inspired me. Many years ago, I tried to make prickly pear jelly, I ended up with syrup. It was good but too runny for toast. I got lots of suggestions on why it didn’t work but had not attempted it since this summer. And this summer I went wild and decide to go for jam… with little bits of prickly pear fruit in it.:) This post is on the process we went through, the disaster we encountered and the final success. 
The first step in anything with prickly pear fruit is to pick the fruit. By the way the fruit is called “tuna or tunas” in plural, well making jam with “TUNA” just sounds gross so I will call them pears of fruits. The word tuna makes me think of fish and who would want to eat fish jam? The pears are covered with tiny stickers so you just don’t even want to think about touching them with your bear hands. We found two easy ways to get rid of the thorns.
Method one… the one that works the best but is a little more time consuming. Burn the thorns off the fruit as you pick it with a propane torch, making sure to also get the bottom of the fruit after it is picked. The bottoms of the fruit where it attaches to the cactus can have tons and tons of little thorns that look almost like fuzz…. it is NOT fuzz.
The second method is to pick all the fruits with tongs, toss them in a bucket and burn the thorns off over the gas stove. This method does not work quite as well because the fruits can pick up thorns from their neighbors in the bucket. But I will admit it is a lot cooler to be inside than standing in the sun burning thorns. :) 
Close up of the thorns… and some neighbor thorns that have stuck themselves in to a fruit… the fuzz at the bottom of this fruit is actually a million tiny thorns. The little beige areas are all tiny thorns. 
Here are the fruits after burning off the thorns. They are all juicy. This burning also helps the skin to come off easily… keep in mind “easy” is a relative term.:) 
Once all the thorns are gone, cut off both ends of the fruit. Then you can make a slit along the fruit for peeling the skin (slit not shown)
Then you just peel off the thin layer of skin. If you go too deep you are going to lose all the meat of the fruit. The skin is rather thin. The fruits are more seeds than anything. 
Then I cut the pealed fruits in half to pull off the meat. Most of the recipes I found said to “scrape out” the seeds… this is lame because it is a pain. It is way easier to just peel off the meat. See below. 
The meat of the fruit peels right off the seeds. The seeds stay in a little glump. We tossed the seed blobs in a pan to extract juice from later. You don’t want to leave any seeds because the seeds are like rocks. They would most likely break your teeth it you tried to chew one. I have read that they can be ground into some type of flour, but I have no idea how to do that or what you would use it for. 
This photo as gross as it looks is actually all the wonderful meat from the fruits. They taste a lot like a kiwi fruit. I ended up slicing up this fruit meat to add to the juice to make jelly into jam. 
We took the seeds and skins, cooked them with a cup or two of water for a while to extract all the juice. One recipe I read said to smush it through a strainer. We just boiled it and strained it to get the juice. Seemed much eaiser to me. Above you see the sliced fruit with the juice extracted from the seeds and me… adding sugar. 
You also add lemon juice, lemon rind and pectin. I will put the recipe we ended up with at the end. 
Then you boil the heck out of the whole mess. This is where I went wrong in the past. I did not boil it long enough or hot enough for the jelly to jell. This is probably one  of the most important parts  and it took quite a long time.
Here is our finished jam… why is it upside down? I really have no idea, just something my mom said to do. We ended up putting it back the the hot water bath as the directions in the pectin package instructed us to do, right side up.
And there is the final result JAM!!! We did have a mishap with the first batch we tried. We didn’t boil it long enough, ended up with syrup with fruit bits in it. I went on line and read it could be re-boiled and re-canned. I poured all the jars back in a pan and re-boiled it.. hey it started to jell. The disaster was when I pulled the old candy thermometer out… part of the glass was missing. Needless to say, that jam went in the trash and we started all over again. Picking all new pears, burning off the thorns… and on and on. :)
Ok so here is the recipe we ended up with if you are interested in making prickly pear jam at some point in your life.
Prickly Pear Jam
50 prickly pear fruits
4 maybe 5 cups of sugar
2 cups water (to boil seeds in)
Juice of 2 lemons and 1 grated lemon rind
1 (Net Wt. 1.75 OZ)  package pectin
Burn thorns off pears. Cut ends off, peel skin off pears then peel the meat off leaving the seeds behind. Put seed blobs and skin if you want in a pan with 2 cups water simmer for about a half hour, then drain off the juice. Throw away the seeds and skin.
Put juice in really large pan with cut up prickly pear meat, lemon juice, lemon rind, sugar and pectin. Boil the heck out of it. 216°F for our altitude. As the syrup continues to boil, the drops will become heavier and will drop off the spoon two at a time. When the two drops form together and “sheet” off the spoon, the jellying point has been reached. (or you can put some in a cool spoon and see if it thickens as it cools)
Pour into prepared sterilized  jelly jars and seal. Process as indicated on your pectin package (Have jars clean and hot. Pack product to within ¼-inch of top, and seal. Heat process for 6 minutes in boiling water bath canner (10 minutes for cold, unsterilized jars). Count time from when water returns to boil. )
Made 12 4oz jars plus 2 8oz jars.
I found this site quite helpful
Update: I found an easy way to juice these fruits.  This year we picked a bunch of fruits, washed them, then froze them. The next morning, we put the fruits in a colander lined with cheese cloth, as the fruits thaw they turn to mush, the juice just starts dripping out of them. With a little smushing you have juice galore. To be on the safe side we ran the juice through a coffee filter. Then I froze most of the juice in icecube trays for later use, the rest I made into syrup.

~ by Meg on August 29, 2009.

81 Responses to “Prickly Pear Jam”

  1. Thanks for great step by step directions. I found the reason to turn the jars upside down when I was researching recipes for beach plums. When you turn the jar with the hot jelly upside down it will naturally create a vacuum eliminating the extra step of boiling the filled jars.

  2. I just have to say that I can’t believe a few of the negative comments. I researched this topic for months before attempting to harvest, process and prepare canned items with prickly pear fruit (Opuntia fruit, tunas, etc). I have so far made small batches of jelly, syrup and raspberry – prickly pear jam. It’s an experiment. Really. If somebody burned her jam, it’s her own fault – not yours. Instructions for making jam in general are on labels of pectin or Suregel. Instructions in general a are available on the Internet. I can’t tell you how many hours and articles or sources I’ve scoured. And yet, it’s still an experiment.

    My experience with the jam was challenging as I wanted to make something my Mom could try; she’s allergic to all citrus fruit. I, too, would prefer to make or prepare jelly or jam without sugar, but I don’t expect you or anyone else to try to figure out how to make that happen for me.

    I appreciate your article. Not only is this process time consuming; creating this blog isn’t a 30 minute job, either. I challenge the guy from Australia to experiment until he masters a no-added-sugar or a low-glycemic recipe, create a blog and post that information with pictures and recipe, free of charge. I will be happy to use his information and glean from his hours upon hours of effort.

    God Bless —-

  3. Hi, just found your blog! We have a lot in common!…Hope you might check ours out as well. I did a post about our prickly pear harvesting, but I didn’t make jelly because I never found an easily understandable recipe…until now! We usually just get the juice and freeze it in ice cube trays. Then we pretty much just use the cubes in margaritas :) So glad I found your blog!

  4. Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips for first-time blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it.

  5. Hello.
    I own a small native plant nursery near Cleveland, Ohio. I was given a Eastern Prickly Pear Plant, that I know nothing about. I am working on a blog post about this cactus. While searching for the web I discovered how versatile it truly is. I was looking for a jelly recipe and found your blog. I don’t think our native grows the red fruit but my readers will get the general idea. Great post! I will be linking it to mine.

  6. I have never made prickly pear jam, but I do intend making some. I do make all sorts of jam, to test if it is thick enough to jell, I put a few drops on a saucer and pop it in the freezer for five minutes or so, then push the juice with your finger, if it wrinkles, it is ready to bottle.
    Colin, De Rust South Africa.

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  9. Great recipe!!! Just made up over 50 jars of jelly. One batch didn’t settle so I had to reboil it and add more pectin. Depending on the species of prickly pear you can end up with more or less juice than the recipe calls for. The Mexican species tend to grow larger and have more juice and meat. I used a blend of three species and 50 fruits got me 6 jars of jelly. You’re pretty well off using a cup of sugar for about a cup and a half of juice. I also recommend freezing the fruits and then thawing them the day you make the jelly. Before I ran the juice through the cheese cloth, I put all the pulp in a juicer and got some extra juice out of it. The juicer doesn’t separate those darn seeds though. Anyways, great recipe! Thanks!!

  10. […] look at all those ruby-red tunas—the fruit of the prickly pear. You can make jam or lemonade out of the tunas if you burn off the thorns and glochids (tiny, almost translucent […]

  11. you should have better instructions! I foraged for my own prickly pears and did everything right until the boiling process! you need to tell us what amount of heat to boil it at. (high,medium,low) Mine got burnt and ruined! so many hours of hard work for burnt jam-___-

    • and for how long to boil them!

      • *If U use STEVIA instead of harmful SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS THAT R POISON/TOXIC TO THE BODY I will luv to try your jam???* * * *Rgds – George C. Martin* *Queensland, Australia…*

        On Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 7:28 AM, Mostly Photos wrote:

        > ** > commented: “and for how long to boil them!” >

      • I don’t think there is an exact  amount of time to boil the jam. It is more about the temperature. What you need to do is test with a jelly thermometer. You need enough heat to the fruit and sugar to raise the temperature over the boiling point of 212 degrees and alter the structure of the sugar. The jam reaches its ideal set point at 220 degrees. Or test by lifting a cooking spoonful of the boiling mixture about 12 inches above the kettle and letting it run off the side of the spoon and back into the kettle. When the last of the mixture forms a thin sheet as it falls off the spoon and leaves the edge clean, the jelly is done.

  12. I don’t know if anyone wants to give this a try, but we had workers at our house from Mexico that asked if they could eat our prickly pears and had a very different way of getting rid of the thorns. They took a bucket and filled it with ice water. They put the pears in for 10 minutes-ish and then reached in with their hands, cut them open with a knife and ate them on the spot. I haven’t tried this myself, but if anyone else wants to give it a try and report back, I’m sure we’d all love to know the results.

  13. I think the reason your mother turned the jars over is to get the fruit to suspend evenly throughout the jam as it cools (fruit tends to float upward). If you can get your jelling technique down just so, you won’t need to to this. It is ultimately better to not let the jam come in contact with the lid. Over time, as the the jam stores, whatever food is on the lid is susceptible to molding and can ruin your jam! :) Keep on cookin’!

  14. What if U placed the fruit in a juicer to get rid of the thorns would that work???

    Rgard – George C. Martin..
    send me an email

    • The stickers are so tiny I am afraid they would just get mixed in unless you strained it very well. I suppose you could try it and strain what is left through cheese cloth. I don’t have a juicer, so I am not sure how they work, but keep in mind that the seeds inside the fruit are as hard as rocks.

  15. I have access to the most BEAUTIFUL prickly pears – which are almost ripe for this year. The cactus is at a Fire Station and they have NEVER seen anyone pick the pears. I made jelly last year and my family LOVED it. Truly, those little thorns in the fingers, that linger for a couple days – are SO worth it!

  16. I was wondering if putting the “pears” on the grill would burn off the stickers? has anybody tried this

    • Someone suggested that but I have never tried it. What I found to be the easiest way to get the juice is to pick, rinse and put the fruit in a paper bag, toss the bag in the freezer over night, then remove it and thaw the fruits in a colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Place a large bowl under the colander. As the fruit thaws the juice is released. You can squish the fruits, which are now soft, releasing the juice. The cheese cloth traps the tiny thorns. So easy compared to any other method I have tried and all you get is pure juice, no added water. :)

    • I’ve made jelly for the past 3years. It works great to put the pears in a grilling basket on the grill and burn the spines off. It is quick and very effective. Afterwards I wash off the pears, slice them in half and put them in a large pan on the stove for at least 20 min. As they heat up the juice is released. With a potato masher, smash them down occasionally to the release the most juice. Afterwards strain the fruit and juice through cheesecloth or other fine material and you have great juice!

  17. […] […]

  18. my prickly pear cacti have yellow blossoms and the fruits are not red like yours. can i eat this? make jam from this? i want to use it, but am not sure if its toxic or not. I have pics of these on my pinterest board. if you have time to respond, i would be grateful as I hate to waste anything. Thankyou, Dave

  19. I live at Narromine in Central Western New south Wales Australia.
    I have a large prickly pear in my cottage orchard & was pleased to get a recipe for pp jam. I’ve mad a jelly before but it wouldn’t jell properly no matter what I tried. I was also very pleased to get all the comments & tips. apparently my maternal Grandmother used to make ppjam., but i think the recipe died with her. She lived at Hill End NSW the town where the Holterman Gold nugget was found.
    Thank You.

    • Thanks for your comment. Hope your jelly turns out. I found that I had to boil mine longer than I thought I would have to. If the jelly does not jell, you and always boil it again or use it as syrup.

  20. […] are a few things you do with a prickly pear cactus: Get poked. Turn its fruit into jam. Use it to clean up dangerous concentrations of selenium in arid California […]

  21. hi, I just processed my jam for the year and wanted to share what I do to process the fruit that seems less labor intensive than you the burning approach. I pick mine with tongs and when I get home I put them in a large bucket of water. I soak them over night. The next day I wear rubber gloves (which normally wouldn’t stand up to the spines) I then cut off the tops and peel them, made easier because they’re soaked too. This year I had two spines get to my fingers after 108 jars.

  22. My idea was to let them soak in cold water – while this did work very well – I also scrubbed under cold water after just to make sure. I put them in a pot to boil – then ran them through my kitchen aid like I do when I am canning tomatoes. It works awesomely. I am going to put some away and freeze it for Margaritas and I am going to make some Jam and syrup.

    • Excellent idea, glad it worked out for you. Seems there are as many ways to get the thorns off prickly pear fruit as there are people who want the thorns off. :)

  23. Great hints from your post right through the comments. I’ve been using ‘tunas’ all summer to make Margaritas (drink w/ tequila)… I cut in half, scoop out flesh and put it in the blender with some fresh lime juice. Blend and strain off the seeds. Those seeds are SO hard, the blender doesn’t even break them up! I’m intrigued by the idea of freezing to make the peeling/juicing easier. I’m in Houston where they are very cheap in the grocery stores.

    • Thank you, and thanks for the margarita idea, glad you enjoyed the post and comments. The comments are filled with wonderful ideas. The seeds are amazingly strong. If you use the “freeze and squeeze” method, you can make icecubes out of the juice, they wonderful for frozen drinks. Please let me know how it works out for you.

  24. Im interested in this technique.

  25. we live in Baja California and my husband has found a great way to get rid of the stickers on the cactus pears. he fills a five gallon bucket half way with the cactus pears, fi
    lls the bucket with water and shakes them like crazy. the stickers all float to the top of the water. he does this a couple of times and almost all of the stickers are gone. we just got through doing 10 gallon of pears this way. I then put the fruit a little at a time in the food blender until liquidifed and then pour the fruit into a strainer, after the fruit is strained I have fruit that is ready to make the jelly.

  26. i live in tucson az well south west tucson and i make prickly pear wine all the time and my mother makes jam all the time
    i just wanted to mention the way i burn off the thorns.
    i either use a bbq grill or if im makeing say 30 gallons and time is important ill make a nice long fire pit and place a grate over the top i made my own just for this useing a mesh type metal and welded sides to it that are abought 3 inches tall. and its abought 6 feet long. i then leave one end just a little higher than the bottom end and with a nice flameing fire going i pour out all the 5 gallon buckets of fruit onto the grate and they slowly roll down burning off all the thorns and landing into a container at the bottom

    also the fire realy helps to bring out the jucies

    i hope this helps

    oh and if you need any fruit just drive out into the desart

    oh yea go around places that have landscapeing and water for the plants if the prickly pears are well wattered they are jucier and have way less thorns

  27. I have a small ( 229 acres ) block of land which I have let go back to grass because here in Australia, market distortions have basically made farming worthless. However, I have plenty of Prickly Pear Trees now growing on it. I have killed most of them but there are stil about 100 plants left. They are budding fruit like you wouldn’t believe – probably 300-400 per tree. My problem is getting the small 2-3 mm fine hair-like spikes out of the fruit. I’ve tried soaking them in water for a few hours but this just didn’t work. If there is someone who has a really good method for removing them, i would like to hear. I have heard that Italian wives are experts at making prickly pear jam, so if there are any of them who could pass on their knowledge, an Aussie bloke would appreciate it very much. Also, if there is anyone who would like to pick as many prickly pear fruits as they would like, you can come to my property at Aubigny ( near Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia ) and go for it!

    • The easiest way I have found to remove the fruit stickers (glochids) is to burn them off with a torch as you pick the fruits, this way no glochids can get stuck in another fruit. I have also read that you can rub them on a pumice stone or the dirt. Both if these methods are time consuming. If you are trying to juice the fruits there is really no need to remove the glochids at all. Just take the fruits and put them in a paper bag, let them freeze hard, then remove them from the freezer and put them in a colander or strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. As the fruits melt, they release their juice. Once the fruits are thawed, squash them down to extract the rest of the juice. The glochids get caught in the cheese cloth along with the skins and seeds, and all you are left with is clean juice.

  28. […] them other than throwing them in a pile for burning later. I’ve always wanted to try making prickly pear jam, but I haven’t done it yet. I’m not looking forward to dealing with all those […]

    • Good luck, I have never had to cut any down but my guess is they way a ton. The jam is yummy, hope you give it a try sometime.

  29. […] Prickly Pear Jam В« Mostly Photos Aug 29, 2009 … I copied your recipe with pictures for future use. Prickly Pear grows all around our house and has … […]

  30. Wow and thank you. I have a large Prickly Pear Cactus – I live in Tempe.
    I am about to try to use your recipe and make some Prickly Pear Jam.
    Again, thank you, I’ll let you know how it goes.
    Happy Holidays.

    • You are welcome. I hope your jam turns out well. :) Happy holidays to you too.

    • I tried some of the cactus buds and they are green inside…when do they turn red? I am new to AZ and am interested in making jam or jelly out of the cactus. I have many in my yard, the red pinkish collored now…green inside. When do they mature (turn red inside)?

      • We made our jam near the end of August. I would suspect they become ripe depending on the weather. Wait a few weeks, cut one open and see if it looks red, if not try again in a few weeks. Also you can watch the fruits and when the critters start eating them, they are sure to be ripe. Good luck, with your jelly. Let us all know how it turns out. Thanks for your comment.

  31. I noticed you gave a specific temperature for your altitude–what is your altitude? We are at about 5000 feet here. Just wondering. Thanks for the great tips and pics!

    • The altitude here is around 3000ft. I got the altitude info off the pectin if I remember correctly. This was pretty much the only jam I have ever made so I was pretty much winging it. :) Glad you enjoyed the info and photos.

  32. I’d love to make your recipe, but I don’t think the prickly pears available to me are the same size as yours. Can you give us an idea of how many cups of meat you actually ended up with?

    • Not much meat at all. The fruit is mostly juice and seeds. Once I cut up all the meat and put it in, it seemed more like a garnish.:) If I remember I had about 4 cups of juice. I would suggest using the freezing method to extract the juice, see how much you get and go from there. With the freezing method you don’t water down the juice.

  33. thanks alot we live in the moutains of tenerife, and have many cactus fruit (prickly pears) on the land but never knew any jam making recipes, so its much apreciated. and we look forward to using your recipe and the useful tips you gave, thanks again.

    • You are welcome, I just realized all my photos are gone. I will have to put them back on here.



          • If I were you I would go around my area and see where they are growing, then go up to the door of the house and ask if they mind you picking some. You might also check with a garden club in the area or the botanical gardens. Good luck.


  35. I copied your recipe with pictures for future use. Prickly Pear grows all around our house and has always looked like it should be jam. Thanks for the info and great pics.

    • So glad to help. I looked up tons of recipes for jam and this was the best one I could find… we adjusted it a bit and made it our own. The key is to boil the heck out of the stuff. I had never made jam before (successfully) and had no idea that it needed to get so darn hot. Best of luck to you and your jam.

  36. What a wonderful post. Now I finally know how to make jam!

  37. I spent hours searching for any recipe that would give me a chance to make the best of the prickly pears I found on the wonderful island of Naxos in Greece. Yours is by far the best! Thanks a lot!

    • So glad it helped. I too spent hours and hours trying to find a recipe for prickly pear jam (jelly if you only use the juice) . I hope it works as well for you as it did for us. I think next time I will use a little less water to boil the seeds and maybe try a little less sugar. But the jam turned out wonderfully. Jelled just fine. :)

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