Hank Shaw is the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. This week on Good Food he talks to Evan about foraging for prickly pears in Los Angeles. Hank likes to make Prickly Pear Syrup with his foraged fruit. A recipe is below.
Commercial versions of this syrup are used for fancy margaritas or poured over pancakes, two excellent ideas. I strongly advise you to buy citric acid for this recipe,to keep the flavors pure. You can often find it in the canning aisle of the supermarket under names like Fruit Fresh. You can also buy it at home-brew supply stores.
This recipe is a guide. Prickly pears—indeed all fruits—come in all sizes and sweetness levels, so use your tastebuds and common sense to adjust the ratio as needed. Remember, the basic ratio for a syrup is an equal volume of liquid (fruit pulp and water) to sugar. When working with prickly pears, wash your counters, any plastic containers, and cutting board frequently because the juice stains like crazy.
Keep reading for the full recipe…
Prickly Pear Syrup
Makes 1 quart
25–30 small prickly pears, or 10–15 medium to large ones
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon citric acid, or the juice of 2 lemons
Peel the prickly pears and puree the pulp in a food processor. This should take about 30 seconds. There will be lots of seeds in there rattling around that you’ll need to filter out. Do this by running the contents of the blender through a colander, foodmill, or coarse sieve into a large bowl.
For a clear syrup, push the contents of the bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, and for a really clear syrup, strain that through cheesecloth. You should have about 3 cups of juice.
Pour the juice in a heavy pot and add the sugar. For a syrup that will be shelf stable, add an equal amount of granulated sugar to your prickly pear juice. If you like things less sweet, you can add less, but the resulting syrup will not last as long and will need to be refrigerated.
Slowly bring the sugar and juice to a simmer over medium heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves, and then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it cool for 20 minutes, or until it is warm enough to taste without burning your tongue. Add citric acid a little at a time and taste as you go. When it is tart enough for you, stop.
While still warm, pour into clean Mason jars and seal with a clean unused lid. This should keep for months in the fridge, or you could process it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes if you want to keep it in the pantry. To do this, fill a pot large enough to hold the jar of syrup with water. Set something in the pot to keep the jar from touching the bottom; I use a vegetable steamer. Bring the water to a boil, submerge the jar of syrup in it, and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jar and set on a cutting board. Your lid should pop at some point to indicate you’ve properly sealed the jar.
When the syrup has completely cooled, check the seal by unscrewing the rim, leaving just the lid. Carefully pick up the jar by the lid only. It should stick. If it doesn’t, try again with a new lid or store in the fridge.