Last weekend I had made plans to take my daughter and drop by the campout that was organized by a bunch of the members of the AHT Forums. My daughter and I don’t get out as much as we’d like, so I wanted to make it an interesting day for her. The previous week, I had stumbled across some vast patches of prickly pear cactus which were ladened with fruit, ready to be picked. I remembered reading some info over at the CWT Forums about the neat stuff you could make with these fruit. I asked my daughter if she’d like to make some prickly pear jelly.
Anyway, I found a ton of pretty neat recipes – everything from jelly to candy to margaritas to cheese cake. Also in my research, I found some vague references to needing a permit to pick prickly pear fruit. Now, I am a rule guy. I even put the grocery carts back in the cart corral. I set out to learn the requirements to picking prickly pear fruit. Keep in mind, this was only an after-thought to the original intent of the trip. The area was on our way to the get-together; it would be convenient to stop on the way, pick some fruit, and then continue on. Sunday we would spend making jelly. Well, the prickly pear I found were located on State Trust Land. I called the Department responsible and was told that you could not pick prickly pear on State Trust Land. As a matter of fact, no natural products could be removed from State Trust Land. Period. They suggested that I call BLM – that the BLM was great to work with.
So, I went online, found a number for BLM, and called them. I finally talked to a guy that said on BLM lands, the State had actually retained the rights to all plants and cactii – that I needed to call the State Agriculture Department. Now at this point, I had spent over an hour looking up numbers and talking on the phone. All this knowing that the average Joe out there does whatever the heck they want on State Trust Land, usually with impunity. I called the Department of Agriculture. The first lady put me through to another gal. That lady acted like I just walked off of a spaceship, and put me through to someone else. That person sent me through to another extension, and I got a guy’s voice mail. I left him a message. He did call me back a while later, to tell me that there were no restrictions to picking prickly pear fruit. I asked him what jurisdictions the Dept of Agriculture was responsible for. he replied that they covered BLM, State land (excluding State Trust land) and private lands. I thanked him and hung up.
Re-checking the map, I found some BLM land that was “on the way” to the camp-out. I told my daughter the plan was still on. Saturday rolled around and we loaded up and headed out. We got to the BLM land and there wasn’t a prickly pear fruit to be found! The patch I had found on State Trust Land was less than 10 miles due north of us. Amazingly, there wasn’t a fruit here anywhere, despite lots of driving around and walking. Disappointed we headed out to meet the other guys and have some supper.
As luck would have it, we ran into another “belt” of fruit-heavy prickly pear, just as we approached the turnoff to the campground. between the road and the fence signifying the State Trust Land boundary, we picked a couple of grocery bags’ worth of these deep purple fruit.
The next day, we set up the production line. Gloves and a vegetable brush to scrub the hair-like needles off of the fruit. I then cut them in half and boiled them for a bit. After they had cooked, I mashed them up with a potato-masher, and scooped out the skins. While this was going on, mason jars were sterilizing. I ran the prickly pear juice through a strainer and then cheese cloth. That was dumped in a pan, sugar and lemon juice added, per the recipe. The stuff was boiled for a bit more, Certo (pectin) was added, cooked a few more minutes, and then poured into the bottles. After a few hours it was clear that something had gone awry during the final cooking stages. Instead of jelly, we have some nice magenta pancake syrup. The concoction tastes OK, but not so wonderful that we wanted to do any more prickly pear cooking, or even to try and re-cook the syrup, adding more Certo to repair it. We went. We cooked. We bottled. Our curiosity had been satisfied, and my daughter and I spent a nice weekend together.
Maybe I will provide the pancakes and syrup, at the next AHT Forums camp-out!