Have you ever had a prickly pear margarita and wondered where that prickly pear fruit comes from? Well, if you have access to prickly pear cactus plants, it is easy to make the syrup yourself.
When the fruit (called tuna) on the cactus plants turn a dark red, then they are ready to harvest. Pluck off the fruits using tongs; the ripe ones should come off easily. You do not want to touch them – they are covered in tiny thorns. Put them in a colander and rinse them well. Squash them with a handheld orange squeezer or other crushing device. Put in a non-reactive saucepan, add sugar and water. [For 2-3 pounds of tunas, add 1/3 cup sugar and 1 cup water.] Bring to a simmer and use a potato masher to help break it up as it cooks. Simmer for 15 minutes or so. Let cool and then push fruit and juice through a fine strainer. You’ll want to push the fruits back and forth against the strainer using a spoon in order to get all of the juice.
At this point, it is ready to add to drinks. You can put just a splash into a margarita or other drink for color. A more substantial amount in a drink adds a very distinctive flavor – somewhat tart and crisp. This is also a base to use for making jams and jellies.