You may have noticed I haven’t been around lately…or maybe you haven’t! I don’t know how I feel about that. I haven’t posted for over a month and no one sent an email or a comment or a text to see if I was still alive. I could have been lying in a ditch, dead from a horrible hiking accident – although I guess if I was dead from a horrible hiking accident, I probably wouldn’t be in a ditch. That wouldn’t say much about my hiking skills if I was just walking along a road or through a field and I up and fell into a ditch. And even if I did fall into a ditch, I can’t imagine it would kill me – I might get wet if there was water in there or I might twist an ankle or a knee if I was especially clumsy – but dead? Probably not – unless I drowned or I could not walk on my injured ankle or knee and just laid in the ditch until I was dead from hunger and thirst – all because you didn’t tweet or post on Facebook wondering about my whereabouts, so there was no outpouring of concern and support, no search parties were organized, and my body wouldn’t have been discovered until a hungry coyote gnawed off my arm and tried to drag it to home to her pups, but dropped it on a busy road while she was trying to dodge assholes who drive like maniacs and don’t slow down for an emaciated coyote trying to carry a grisly load. Poor coyote – another death to add to your guilty conscience!
I’m happy to report that I am not dead! But I’ve been busy – so busy – and it’s all because I love margaritas.
Let me explain.
My friends introduced me to prickly pear margaritas a couple of years ago. Up until then, I was strictly a strawberry margarita girl – I didn’t even know that prickly pear margaritas existed…or that they were delicious. Then, last year, the same friends posted on Facebook that they had made their own prickly pear syrup – from scratch! They even included pictures of themselves enjoying the delightful elixir in margaritas and other alcoholic concoctions – but I was not invited to imbibe. I was sad and let them know that next time they made prickly pear syrup, I wanted to be included (and have a drink or two). They graciously agreed – or I may have bullied them into it – but either way, they were gracious.
So this year, while I was out hiking in the desert, I noticed that the prickly pear cacti were producing fruit like crazy! This made me want to pluck the pears right there, but I decided to wait when I saw the cactus spines in my fellow hiker’s hands (they unintentionally grabbed the cactus to prevent a catastrophic fall down the mountainside to their certain doom – now THAT’S the way to die while hiking!)
When I got home, I broke out my five-gallon bucket and a pair of tongs — and I went prickly-pearing. Before I knew it, I had filled the entire bucket with the claret colored fruit. By the way, the fruit are called “tunas” — don’t ask me why. People give you very strange looks when you live in the desert and tell them you are going to go pick some tunas so you can have some margaritas.
Thanks to my prickly pear margarita drinking friends, I knew I had to burn the prickles off the fruit. It not the long, easy to see spines that you have to watch out for – it is those tiny, hair-like pokies that are lurking, just waiting for the opportunity to bury themselves into your fingers or hand. They are nearly impossible to pull back out and seem to burrow under your skin, ready to shoot lightning strikes of pain shooting if you are so audacious as to pick up anything ever again.
The fruit gets a delightful shine as you singe the shit out of it. However, watch your grip! Those suckers love to jump out of the tongs and fly across the room and the juices stain anything they come into contact with. There is a reason that Native Americans used the juice as a dye.
Rinse off the tunas and maybe give them a little scrub, just in case some especially sneaky prickles escaped the bonfire. Then dump a bunch into your blender or food processor and give them a whirl!
Basically, you want to puree the fruit until its smooth and looks like something that might be found at a murder scene.
Pour that carnage into a strainer that is set over a bowl and then stir it around for a while until the juice is in the bowl and the pulp is left behind in the strainer. Don’t feel bad for the pulp – it did it’s job and you can always throw it into the compost bin if you are so inclined.
If you’re not a perfectionist, you can call it a day a mix up a perfectly acceptable margarita right now. If you’re on the anal side (like me) then you’ll want to strain the juice again – this time through cheesecloth or a paper towel – to get rid of any remaining sediment.
Ahh – much better! Now you’re left with a beautiful jewel-colored liquid that can be frozen or refrigerated for a couple of weeks. But I take it a step further (because I’m an over-achiever).
Prickly pear is sweet – it tastes like a cross between watermelon and bubblegum (which actually is much better than it sounds), but it has almost no acid. It tastes even better if it has a little tang from lemon juice or citric acid (you can use Fruit Fresh, which is sold at any grocery store). I pour about six cups of the juice into a saucepan, add the juice of a lemon or two (or a tablespoon or so of citric acid) and some sugar. Hold onto your hat – it seems like a LOT of sugar. One cup for every cup of liquid, but it works! Stir it in, heat it up, and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes. This will make a thin, simple syrup that is perfect for drizzling on vanilla ice cream, over pancakes, or – of course – for making delicious margaritas!
I make mine this way:
2 ounces tequila, 1 ounce triple sec or Cointreau, 1.5 ounces lime juice, and 2 ounces prickly pear syrup. Mix it up in a blender and serve over ice in a salt or sugar rimmed glass. If you’re in the mood for a frozen margarita, just freeze some of the syrup in ice cube trays and use them along with a bit of ice.
Have one or two — or three — or four if you don’t have to go to work in the morning.
I harvested prickly pear three more times after the first go round and made a shit-ton of syrup. I even bought some cute little mason jars and canned four dozen bottles of prickly pear syrups to last through the long winter months ahead. I rather feel like an accomplished pioneer woman — who likes to drink…a lot.