11/24/2017 TimberGardener 0Comment

We just got back from a November roadtrip to California.  On a winding road in the center of the state I saw a hillside COVERED with ripe prickly pears.  They seemed to be public domain, but the hillside was incredibly steep and there was no shoulder.  We knocked on the door nearby but there was no answer.  Toby braved the edge of the patch with a pair of heavy gloves and a knife…the ‘tunas’ were so ripe they came right off.  We picked 4.5 lbs, enough for a gallon of wine, MOSTLY avoided the tiny barbs, and nestled the bag in with some citrus and beets from a farmer’s market.  The next time I checked on them, the bag was leaking with a neon pink liquid.

Three days later we were home and immediately chopped the prickly fruits into a bucket.  I’ve never had a fruit resist being turned into wine so vehemently!

I loosely followed a recipe found here from E. C. Kraus.

Prickly Pear Wine

4.5 lbs prickly pears, roughly chopped, skin on, seeds in
1/8 tsp tannin (powdered)
1/4 tsp pectinase
2 lbs cane sugar
1 1/4 cup raisins, chopped
2 pints water, warm
2 tsp tartaric acid
3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
pinch Potassium Metabisulfite (k-meta)


Rinse fruits in a strainer to convince yourself you are washing away some of the thorns.  With a sharp knife in one hand and a pair of metal tongs in the other, remove the fruits and chop them into 1″ pieces.  I immediately put these into a small (2 gallon) fermenting bucket.  The color of the interior flesh and juice doesn’t seem like it should exist in nature.

Remove any bad spots from the fruit.  I didn’t take the ends off (the dry area where they attach to the cactus) or do any removal of the obnoxious little ‘glochid’ spines besides a thorough blast of water.  I plan to strain the juice through either muslin or a juice bag.  Probably muslin so I can just light it on fire afterwards, since no one is going to win a fight with those tiny spines.

Add the k-meta, pectinase, tannin, and sugar to the fruit in the fermenting bucket and mash/stir the fruit until it is dissolved.  Chop the raisins and stir them in.

Add the acid and yeast nutrient to the warm water and stir, then pour into the bucket and mix thoroughly.

More information as the wine progresses!  Right now it is hanging out with the ingredients above in a fermenting bucket with a lid out in the cold, cold garage for 24 hours.

I’ve never tried a prickly pear fruit before, but how could I pass up trying to make another wine from ‘fruit’ native to the americas?  The tomato has been delicious lately!

Some home winemakers complain that their prickly pear wine loses its vibrant color over time.  To avoid this, I added tannin at the maceration stage and did not boil/cook the fruit.  Another rumor is that the wine will turn mucilaginous at some point in the fermentation.  There wasn’t enough information available to avoid this one…I’m hoping the pectinase will help but I have read about other fruits that do the same thing.  The last pitfall is the glochids, those tiny, tiny pokers, that some winemakers have found STILL present in their wine after racking.  They are invisible in the dark liquid, but will irritate the throat.  I plan to filter the must through a fine muslin or jelly bag.  Hopefully this will take care of the glochids without losing color!

The cats really missed us while we were gone, and Panther insisted on helping in the kitchen.  We give him his own spoon and tell him to stir.

Day 2: Added a packet of Premier Cuvee yeast (sprinkled on the top of the must without mixing in.)

Day 3:  The must is slowly starting to bubble and I’ve been stirring it once a day.

Day 4: All the fruit is at the top and I’m stirring twice a day now.  It smells very mild…a little berrylike but the yeast smell overpowers everything.  The color is still a beautiful dark pink-purple.

Day 6: Still fermenting strongly, all the fruit is pushed to the top when I open the bucket, and lots of CO2 comes out when I stir.  I couldn’t help but lick the stirring spoon (sanitized afterwards of course!) and the flavor is great!  I can see why people make prickly pear jelly!  I even risked imbibing glochids!




Day 7: Strained the must very carefully through a sanitized cotton towel and strainer.  The liquid was an INSANE color of dark neon purple pink…I kept trying to take photos but not of them turned out quite like reality.

Straining through a cotton cloth
The bottom of the pitcher
Diluted prickly pear juice shows the purple tint


Neon juice on the edge of the strainer

Day 9: Topped off the gallon carboy with 3 cups of grape concentrate mixture.  Better than leaving an air gap at the top to oxidize all the purples!  From previous wines, I’ve learned a 2 cup water: 3/4 cup concentrate ratio has a brix of 16 and an acidity of 0.6%.

Day 45: Tasted the prickly pear wine for the first time.  Whoa!  This tastes unlike any other wine.  It has a ‘thick’ consistency, like it has a little bit of jelly mixed in.  The wine itself reminds me of the flavor of dragonfruit.  With the ‘tunas’ and other fruit that has SO much water content, I feel like the flavor gets diluted.  I’ll have to try this one out with a higher level of acidity…it is good on its own, and the color is still intensely pink/purple, but it might need a little something.

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