Most folks who have
lived here in the Hill Country know about the mustang grape jelly but
not many have ever tasted some of the other native fruits that can be
made into jelly.
One of the most
unusual is tuna or cactus jelly. When the seed pods that form on the
top of the prickly pear turn deep red, they are ripe and ready to collect.
Now you have to beat the deer and other critters to them and they are
not easy to process. In fact compared to cactus fruit, mustang grapes
are a breeze.
First you have
to pick the fruit off the prickly pear. Heavy leather gloves and clippers
are handy. If you don't use gloves, don't ever make the mistake of trying
to remove the stickers from your fingers with your teeth. Those tiny
hair like thorns get into your tongue and that really hurts. The ripe
fruit are very colorful. After you collect them, you have to singe the
thorns off the tunas by holding them over a flame. The gas stove works
great. Now you can try to peel them without singeing but you'll end
up with those tiny hair like stickers in your fingers. I can almost
Now the recipe
I have calls for about 30 of the fruit to make two quarts of juice.
They say to scrub the fruit after they are singed and cut them in half.
You simmer them in water, then pressure cook them for 15 minutes. I
think you could safely just simmer them for 45 minutes or so. When the
juice is running out of the fruit, in other words, the water is changing
color, you can cool it and strain it through cloth. I'd use old sheeting
or flannel and throw it away afterwards. Better to throw it away than
to end up with cactus thorns in some other jelly. Making the jelly is
about like any other jelly, but you do need lemon juice since the tuna
is not very acid.
The fruit of the
agarita bush doesn't need any lemon juice unless you pick them when
they are very ripe. The agarita has leaves that look like a holly. They
grow all over the hills and in the spring you can find them covered
with bright yellow flowers. The flowers grow on the stems the whole
length of the branches. They are a very decorative bush and easy to
grow since they are native. In the summer they set on small berries
where each flower was growing.
The best way to
harvest the berries is to put a sheet under the bush and thrash the
bush with a light pole. The leaves are stickery and sharp so you'd have
to enjoy hurting yourself to pick them. The berries are pretty small
also. After you wash the fruit, you cover it with water in a glass or
china bowl. Because they are so acid, metal bowl can be discolored or
you can pick up a taste in the jelly. You let them sit overnight and
in the morning boil them for five minutes. Cool and strain the juice.
Squeezing is recommended with these berries to get the most juice out.
Just follow the directions for any berry jelly in your canning cookbook.
Now when I have
to let something sit overnight, I have to put it in the refrigerator
or the Pharaoh ants get into it, but that's another story.
Copyright 1986, 1996, 1998 by Sulfur Creek Enterprises, Austin, Texas