Prickly Pear Lemonade

September 17, 2009

Prickly Pear Lemonade

From the Desert Harvesters Mesquite Cookbook, edited by Amy Schwemm, Tucson CSA.

Prickly pear juice, frozen in cubes (see below)
Lemon juice, frozen in cubes
Honey or agave nectar
Cold water
Ice
Fresh mint or lemon balm (optional)

If using honey, heat a cup of water in a small saucepan.  Before it boils, add honey and dissolve.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
Fill a pitcher three-quarters full with cold water,  Add several lemon cubes and a few prickly pear cubes.  Add cooled honey mixture or agave nectar straight from the bottle.  Mix, taste, and adjust to your taste.  Serve with ice and sprigs of herbs.

Variations:
Mesquite broth or syrup can replace some of the sweetener.  To make, simmer broken mesquite pods in water until brown and sweet, and strain.
Replace some of the lemon juice with sweet orange juice and reduce the sweetener.  Or use sour orange juice, utilizing some of the “ornamental” harvest that goes to waste!
Replace some of the water with apple juice.  No additional sweetening required.

Prickly Pear Sorbet
Make a very strong and sweet drink.  Freeze in a dish, stirring periodically as it solidifies.  Or freeze in an ice cream maker.

To prepare prickly pear juice:
Harvest in August and September.  The cactus is abundant, but always leave some fruit for the animals and some to grow.  Using tongs, collect ripe, dark red/purple fruits that separate easily from the plant.  Process in a blender or food processor to make a slurry.  Strain the slurry though a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cloth.  Use a spoon to press the juice from the seeds and skins.  Let the strained juice settle.  Gently pour the juice off the top, leaving most of the sediment behind.  Freeze the juice in ice cube trays, then transfer to airtight freezer storage.  Pour the seeds in the yard to start a new prickly pear patch.

About Lemons:
Juice plenty of citrus in season, December through the spring in Tucson.  Freeze in ice cube trays and transfer to airtight freezer storage.
If you have beautiful fruit, wash and zest it before juicing.  Use a vegetable peeler or fine grater to remove the zest (colored part of the citrus skin).  Zest adds flavor to deserts and savory dishes.  Dry the zest on a tray on the counter, and transfer to airtight storage when dry.  Or put in a jar and cover completely with honey OR vodka.  Use the flavored honey in tea or lemonade.  The candied strips of zest are good in cookies.  Use the vodka in place of vanilla extract in cooking.

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