Prickly – Pearly Making It!

The late summer and good rains have brought a plenitude of Prickly Pear Tunas here at FCR!

PP bush

I have been trying to find as many uses as possible for this beautiful sweet fruit here on the ranch. You have to be quick though before the other animals get to them. I think the deer have been hitting it pretty hard.

eaten PP

I have had several faux pas with this little stickers! I picked them carefully with tongs the first time but still got a few stickers. My second time around I used gloves and tongs and this seemed to work a lot better. Be prepared, though, you will still get a few little stickers or glochids in your skin. They are easily removed however and are only a temporary “thorn in your side.”

 

The color of the fruit ranges from a soft pink to a deep purple color. There seems to be many different varieties here on the ranch. The color doesn’t seem to much affect the flavor. I have made my husband taste about 1000 or more and the sweetness is about the same in the soft pink ones (even better at times) and the deep purple. The thing that does seem to affect sweetness is the tenderness of the fruit, which is hard to tell with tongs but if your tongs break the skin of the fruit then it is usually really sweet. I am pretty good at squeezing them with my fingers now and not getting prickled to death. The sweetest ones are about the tenderness of a ripe plum when you squish it between your fingers.

PP angle

PP bucket

The first batch I made, I burned all the thorns off over an open flame burner. This was very cumbersome doing them one at a time. Prickly Pear is found all over Texas and into Mexico. I was talking with a friend who grew up in Mexico and she kinda laughed at me when I told her I was burning the glochids off each fruit. She said you only have to rub them on the ground and they will come right off. Voila, it worked! The only problem was when I rolled them on the ground with my boot gently, as my husband pointed out, I had cow manure all over my boots. He ate it anyway, BTW!¬† I found the second batch worked best if I just gently rubbed each fruit with a thick old towel. Still time consuming, but worked better than an open flame for me. Note: put the towel away so your husband doesn’t use it to wipe his hands off later! Uh oh, sorry!

The first batch I made with the skin on just cutting the ends off. They are full of tiny stone like seeds and the meat or mesocarp part of the fruit is relatively small so I thought peeling them would be futile.

PP inside

However, after my first batch of jelly I found out that it was really slimy. Doesn’t really matter that much with jelly because it just makes it come out a little more syrupy than usual. It was still usable for toast and such. It also had an amazing flavor and beautiful golden color when finished.

PP jelly

The second batch I was planning to juice and save for making jelly, syrup or margaritas at a later date. I did not want to have slimy juice, so I decided I would take the seeds out because I thought the slimy consistency was coming from the gel around the seeds inside, similar to tomatoes. While I was doing a little internet research on a way to easily remove seeds, I found a blog post from 2011 by The Pink Cowgirl: http://thepinkcowgirl.blogspot.com/2011/06/prickly-pear-juice.html. In the article she explained the sliminess was coming from the skins, not the seeds. Damn it! I have to peel all these tunas! I got a little overzealous and picked two five-gallon buckets and now I had to peel them all!! It turns out the handy-dandy potato peeler did the job pretty easily.

The next batch of juice was perfect with no slime at all. The juice was relatively easy to make:

  1. Pick fruit
  2. Rub off glochids
  3. Wash
  4. Cut off ends & peel with potato peeler
  5. Quarter fruit
  6. Place in non-reactive pot with small amount of water
  7. Bring to boil
  8. High simmer for about 5 minutes
  9. Mash with potato masher
  10. Strain through cheese cloth after cooled

SIDE BAR: My ex-mother-in-law used to give me vague cooking instructions like this when I was young and newly married. “Chasity- Gravy is just some flour, water and grease.” No measurements or time frames at all given. That is exactly what it tasted like too……. FLOUR……. WATER…….. GREASE! However, this juice is really easy and can be tweaked to meet your needs.

Then you will get this beautiful red juice to use for jelly, drinking juice, cocktails, syrup or any other type of fruit flavoring you need. It has a taste that is similar to a strawberry/watermelon/honeydew melon mix.

PP juice

I like to make treats for the holidays that are homemade so the jelly is a good gift because I think people rarely get homemade items anymore. I hope my family, friends and co-workers enjoy it! If not, I hope they lie and say they did!

I used my juice that day to make an excellent prickly pear margarita. I figured I was owed it after all that hard work. It was delicious and super easy! I just placed the following ingredients into a shaker with ice and poured over a salt-rimmed glass:

  1. 2 oz. gold tequila (ok, 3 oz!)
  2. 0.5 oz. prickly pear juice
  3. 0.5 oz. simple syrup
  4. 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  5. Garnish with lime wedge

PP margarita

Despite all the work involved I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the prickly pears on the ranch. Prickly Pear, I love you too!

PP heart

Lettuce Begin…..

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”- Audrey Hepburn

Our garden at Farnash Creek Ranch (FCR) has started to produce and we have began harvesting several of our meals. We love this time of year when you can go out to the garden and pick your dinner. The spring garden is in full swing. We have a total of four garden patches this year so we can beef up our rotational gardening program. Garden #1 is planted in peas and beans primarily to replace the nitrogen depleted by last years crop. Garden #2 is coming along nicely but not producing, yet. Garden #3 is where the action is happening right now and the one I will highlight  today. Garden #4 is still in progress but I better hurry up and get my stuff in the ground because it is getting late.

First, I would like to give a little props to that fall spinach plant that produced for us all winter even through a few pretty good frosts. It was still growing when I was planting for the spring. For a new gardener wanting to try out a few plants – spinach is easy to grow and is very versatile. We eat it raw in salads and also cook it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It grows well in containers and keeps growing after it is picked. I would suggests when planting in pots to use good quality potting soil such as miracle grow potting mix. I bought the cheap stuff one year and it turned into rock soil in the pots. Secondly, speaking from experience, there is a big different between potting mix and garden mix but the bags look exactly the same. Make sure it is potting mix.

The spring garden has really took off well after much planning and cultivating. Garden #3 has lettuce, cabbage, kale, yellow squash, cucumbers, few interspersed onions, broccoli, and cauliflower. The garden is flagged by dill and marigolds in an attempt to ward off pests.¬† The first thing produced was a ton of lettuce. Literally, one ton! Ok, almost a ton. This year we really concentrated on companion planting and staggered planting to keep a steady harvest and minimize pests. The lettuce loves it. I have had zero damage (knock on wood) to my lettuce from pests. I planted marigolds at the ends of the rows which I think was very beneficial or maybe our pests haven’t found them yet. Shhhhhh……. We planted butter lettuce and romaine lettuce. The butter lettuce was from seeds started in the ground and it is loving our alkaline soil! I think it is the softest most palpable lettuce I have ever put in my mouth! The romaine lettuce I started in pots and it is growing but slowly- I think my pot selection may have been too small. Luckily, we will be eating butter lettuce until the cows come home. Well really longer than that since the cows are home actually. Note, if you have not invested in a salad spinner please do so. The little device allows me to keep lettuce up to 2 weeks.

lettuce

Lettuce move on to another lettuce like plant. The Kale! The Kale has been the beauty of the garden! It is so vibrant and colorful with burst of deep green and purples. We have a little Dinosaur Kale and a ton of Red Russian Kale. This plant is also very versatile, healthy and has multiple uses. We eat it raw or cooked. This week I experimented with Kale Chips! They were delicious. This is a good healthy snack for us late night snackers! Even my son liked them. Maybe he is turning over a new leaf (he he he) since he has a brand new baby boy. May I introduce, our newest grandbaby at FCR. Holden Harrison:

Holden

Now, back to Kale. This too is an easy plant for beginners. We planted in the ground this year from seeds and they have done really well. They grow fast and are low maintenance. I have also planted some in pots and they have done really well. Although, this year the plants in the ground seem to be doing better. I have had problems in the past with not having enough to last us throughout the season. However, this year I may have over planted. So, tell me if I can send you some Kale! Also, the salad spinner works well for this too or a lettuce keeper.

LET’S GET TURNIP! These turnip greens are out of control and I love it! I have thinned them twice and was able to have a huge harvest just from thinning. The leaves were young and tender which tasted amazing. The turnips were small and I haven’t decided yet if I will roast them separately (found a delicious recipe on pinterest) or add them in with the greens. I froze the turnip part for now until I can decide. Just a side note, the turnip leaves or greens will have prickly points on the leaves so I don’t eat them raw but once they are cooked they go away and you never even knew they were there. I could eat greens at every meal. My only problems is that you can’t eat greens without cornbread and I probably shouldn’t have so much cornbread in my life. One pan won’t hurt, right?

 

We also enjoyed a great cream of broccoli & cauliflower soup & modified shepherds pie from the garden harvest! Finally, I will close with this wonderful cocktail made with fresh mint from the garden. I call it a “Barbara Bush” in honor of the recent passing of FLOTUS # 41.

Barbara Bush

It is muddled lemon juice and mint with one part Blanton’s Bourbon and one part gingerale. I know I shouldn’t mix that Bourbon with anything but i was living on the edge!

-Chas

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