We’ve got a pretty big prickly pear cactus out in the front of the house — you can see it there on the right hand side, in front of the gate — and in my enthusiastic appreciation for the lovely house and getting to live in Albuquerque again, and in my desire to really appreciate all the aspects of this new piece of my life, I decided that when the cactus fruit got ripe, I would harvest it and make prickly pear candy for my son, who is off in college living in the dorms. I think that if you are living in the dorms in Pittsburgh and your mom sends you homemade prickly pear candy, you can make quite a name for yourself, sharing it out on your floor.
So I waited patiently all summer for the fruit to get so ripe that it was practically falling off the cactus, and then I took tongs and a big paper bag and went and harvested, being VERY careful not to touch anything. Having learned already that prickly pear cactuses have many many more stickers than you can actually see, and really the tiny ones are the problem.
I had a big bag of fruit, and I shared some with the people next door, who had told me they love the stuff, and I gave some to my brother, who never did get around to using it, too bad, and I saved the rest for myself, for the Candy Project.
Which started with peeling the fruit.
And! I knew not to touch the stuff till the invisible prickers were off, so I was very careful. I found someone online saying to put the stuff in the sink and rinse off the stickers so I did that, but as it turns out that is a Bad Plan. Really. If water got the prickers off, the rain would do it. No.
So, after spending some time getting as many prickers out of my fingers as I could — this project took up several days — I blanched the fruit, and then used the tongs to cut the skins off. I lost a lot of the fruit that way. I did not care.
And then I had the fruit, which is chock full of hard black seeds. Got those out by mashing the fruit through a strainer.
Took a break of a couple of weeks, with the juice in the refrigerator.
Found candy recipe on the net.
Spent an afternoon making the candy; this involved boiling part of the juice with sugar to soft ball stage, and then cooking up the rest of it with cornstarch till it got thick, and then cooking both pieces together for an hour, and pouring it all out into an oiled pan. It wasn’t a candy recipe I’d ever seen before — the cornstarch pudding part was especially weird — but I thought, hey, let’s see how this goes.
Let it sit over night.
Cut the candy up and rolled it in powdered sugar.
And watched it fall all to hell and gone.
Really, there’s no candy I know of that’s supposed to sit around and sweat. This is Just Wrong.
It has a nice flavor, but the consistency is weird, very weird. Also, as I mentioned, it is sweating juice all over the pan.
I threw it out.
I think I’ll try again next year. With a different recipe.
Oh, and I think I’ll buy a candy thermometer.