Homemade Prickly Pear Syrup
It's late summer and here in Austin the Nopales cactus is growing abundantly all around. It's large pads dot the landscape with green to light pink to deep magenta fruits decorating freeways, neighborhoods, front yards, and restaurants everywhere I go.
Having just landed here a few months ago, this was one of the first plants I recognized. I learned about Nopales cactus during my herbal studies as a popular healing food with many medicinal effects including its ability to reduce blood sugar. It is also the main home of the Cochineal beetle, which produces a beautiful magenta dye that I use on the naturally dyed clothing I offer. Talk about full circle, right?
The fruit, which I know a little less about, caught my eye with it's beautiful rose colored skin. I went on a native plant walk at a nearby park and the guide explained more about this resilient wild food.
It grows in disturbed areas and once it starts, it can take over. It can survive very harsh conditions and thrive in even the hardest, driest, most nutrient poor soil.
The plant is covered in spikes and the fruit also has thousands of tiny little micro glass-like spikes called glochids. Don't worry, the fruits in the picture here have been de-glochined!
If collecting these by hand, make sure to be very careful to not handle them without adequate tools. A pair of barbeque tongs works great in this situation.
I tried my hand at making a syrup with the fruit and I was very pleased with the end result.
R E C I P E + I N S T R U C T I O N S
To make the syrup gather about 10-12 prickly pear fruits. Taking care not to make skin contact, place them in a sauce pan and add water until they are about half way covered.
Cook over low heat for 1-2 hours until the liquid has reduced to a thicker, syrup-like consistency.
Strain through a mesh cloth to separate the juice from the skin and seeds. At this point the heat will have broken down the glochids so you won't have to worry about getting them in your skin.
Next you will want to measure the amount of liquid you have in order to decide how much sweetener to use. Sugar acts as a natural preservative, so the more you use the better it will keep.
You can use either cane sugar or honey. I opted for raw cane sugar because it is a more mild flavor, but either one is fine. A typical syrup recipe calls for 1 part sweetener to 1 part liquid. I had about 1 cup of juice so I added 1 cup of sugar. This is in part to preserve it so if you know you are going to use it up within the week, you can tweak the sweetener to your taste preference.
Over low heat, add the sweetener to the prickly pear juice and whisk it gently until it is incorporated. Turn off the heat and let cool. The last step is to add the juice of one lime which helps bring out the depth of flavors.
One last optional step is to add a splash of alcohol to help keep the syrup from going off. About 10-20% alcohol is a good rule of thumb for a syrup if you know you want to keep it longer than a week or two.
Either way you will want to store it in the fridge.
U S E S
This syrup has so many uses, we had a lot of fun finding all kinds of different ways to incorporate it into drinks.
Prickly pear is known as a demulcent, which is just a fancy way of saying it has a moistening effect on our bodies. This makes for a fantastic herb for keeping hydrated and cool during hot summer months (hello triple-digit Texas summers!)
One simple way I enjoyed using it was adding it to sparkling water for a refreshing afternoon drink. It not only added a nice fruity watermelon/strawberry like flavor, it was also just beautiful to drink.
We also found these adorable cactus margarita glasses at a thrift store for $2 so we made prickly pear margaritas!
I hope you enjoyed this little post inspired by beautiful and delicious Prickly Pear. This plant stoked my curiosity to learn more about a wild and medicinal food growing right in my neighborhood.
Keep an eye out for more plant inspired musings. To stay in touch you can subscribe to my newsletter below. I hope you stay cool and nourished this month as we transition into fall.