One day my friend Mary Lee and I were riding in the foothills among the juniper and cactus just when the prickly pears had made their fruit. The little fruits, about the size of your thumb, are a pretty red, and we had heard somewhere that jelly made from them was really good.
I like Mary Lee a lot, but I’ve never understood her passion for cooking.
Why, I wondered, would she interrupt a perfectly good evening horseback ride in glorious late summer with a cooking idea, for Pete’s sake. I am the original wearer of the shirt button that says, “Don’t Assume I Cook,” and I’ve always worn it proudly. That Suzy Homemaker stuff is not for me.
She talked me into it, though, and we went back to the house, got some paper grocery sacks, a couple of sets of tongs and went prickly pear picking. Our horses, as you might imagine, didn’t want to step too close to those plants with the flat leaves, pretty fruits and lots of stickers, so we took turns — one of us holding the horses while the other gathered the little fruits.
Those things were growing all over the place so fairly soon we had a sack full. I was actually getting into the project.
Back at the house our husbands came in as we were unloading our bounty and unsaddling the horses. When we proudly showed off our fruit and explained the plan they laughed.
They did not agree to help us out, but they at least tended to our horses.
Mary Lee knew you were supposed to use something called Sure-Jell to make jelly, so we bought some at the grocery store along with little canning jars and lids.
Back at the house we dumped out our fruit and looked it over. Personally, I couldn’t see how those little things were ever going to be something edible. We decided to cut off and discard the ends. The next logical step seemed to be to boil the things awhile.
So we added water and did that. After a half hour or so the stuff in the pan looked wrinkly. Mary Lee got a potato masher and smushed everything. Then we drained the juice out through a colander and added sugar and Sure-Jell. After everything had boiled together a bit we poured our masterpieces in jars and screwed on lids.
By the time everything had cooled our husbands were in the house, and we had some biscuits made. This was going to be so good!
We let the guys go first. They both took big bites of biscuit loaded with our creation, chewed a second or two and then howled and ran outside, holding their mouths.
Mystified, Mary Lee and I tried it. Yikes! We all spent the rest of the evening trying to rid our mouths of tiny stickers. Later, we learned about cheesecloth and jelly bags for straining the juice.
I think we should’ve burned the stickers off like ranchers do for their livestock during drought.