The last marmalade I made over the long weekend was a prickly pear marmalade. One of my friends is (flexibly) helping me complete the mastery challenge with Food in Jars. She picked the recipe for prickly pear marmalade, and I was game for it! A marmalade made with cactus? Sounds different and fun! Why not?
I knew that prickly pear was from a cactus—a cactus that I had even seen as recently as December while my husband and I backpacked through Big Bend. We sometimes even identified the cactus based on the purplish bulbs on top; I remember us idly wondering whether this was some kind of new growth on the plant. (Readers more informed than us may already know where this is headed.)
I knew that our local grocery store sold cactus, so with prickly pear written on my grocery list, I went to the store and came home with nine cactus leaves. Yes, leaves. I stared at the leaves, unsure how to cut them for use in marmalade. I googled “how to cut prickly pear,” and then realized my mistake. I had bought the leaves of the plant, not its fruit, which was what clearly should belong in a marmalade. Whoops. Prickly pear marmalade became a touch less exotic. (I also now need to find something to make that uses cactus leaves; I hate wasting food.) After calling a couple of places, I found a grocery store that sold prickly pear and stocked up.
My friend came over and we chatted and stared at the prickly pears. I hadn’t previously read the instructions for how to cut prickly pear so much as just realized my error; we watched a video and then tackled handling the prickly pears. As I double checked my recipe, I realized that it called for deseeded prickly pears. I don’t know if you’ve seen the inside of a prickly pear (I sure hadn’t), but deseeding it seemed like an unpleasant mess, like trying to remove the seeds from kiwis. We opted to save ourselves the hassle with a sieve and to leave the seeds in the marmalade. The seeds are edible.
After three days and three batches of marmalade, I was so very glad to have one of my friends hang out with me while making this recipe. This marmalade lacked the tedious removal of the citrus membranes, but it’s still a lot of work. And, as the saying goes, many hands make light work… and visually appealing work. The marmalade is lovely, especially with its festive seeds and coloring.