(a guest post for the Wild Things Roundup)
Greetings, readers! Today we have a guest post, from the lovely Katelyn Bradwell in Dallas, Texas. We were chatting on Facebook and she mentioned that she was sipping a prickly pear margarita. Of course I was so excited that I demanded she write a guest post on the subject immediately. I figured it’d also be nice to get a perspective from somewhere other than Southern California for once. Which brings me to my next point: if you’d like to write a guest post about something wild and wonderful from your area, shoot me an email. I’d love to hear more about the flavours that mark your little corner of the world. And now, here’s Katelyn:
Prickly Pear Margaritas
I was sipping a prickly pear margarita on the front porch, listening to the pouring rain beat out a quick rhythm on the roof. It was one of those evenings– suspended between the details of today, and the worries of tomorrow, and also suspended between Summer and Autumn, on the cusp of a few things at once. You could feel it. And you could tell the summer was ending. Here in Texas, with the onset of the monsoons, the tunas (the fruits of the prickly pear) begin growing. By the time the last ones ripen into that deep red and purple color, it is Fall. Their ripening heralds the season change, and also my very favorite time of year– impromptu porch party time– when it is still warm, but cool enough to enjoy the evenings. When the plants return to life, springing from their summer dormancy with vigor and joy, and when new resident plants are welcomed into my garden. And also when the humans begin to step out of their air-conditioned hibernation to enjoy nature and neighbors once more. Friends show up unannounced and welcome, and I just happen to have enough margarita left over in my makeshift cocktail shaker to share. We stay up chatting, and laughing, and enjoying the perfect night, until way too late. Because where most of the Northern hemisphere is beginning to bunk down for a long winter, in Texas, Fall is our Spring; the rush of life is renewed. Plants grow, ripen, and set seed, in a chaotic rush before Winter arrives. The excitement is tangible, and these little exuberant fruits embody that completely.
You can’t help but notice prickly pear fruits. They beckon from locations as varied as the median of a massive highway in central Dallas, to front yards, parks and empty abandoned fields. Every time I slice one of the fruits open I’m struck by the depth of colour– it reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral. When cooking with tunas, I like to make things that highlight that color. And prickly pear infused margaritas do just that. They are also perfect for impromptu porch parties. The flavor is light, and reminiscent of a floral, citrussy cucumber; combined with lime and tequila tunas are really at their best.
I always play a bit with proportions of this recipe at the end, adding a bit more of this or that, to taste. It is a fairly basic margarita; tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and simple syrup. I infuse the tunas into both the tequila and simple syrup to make sure the flavor really comes through.
A word of warning: try not to get so distracted by the splendor of the fruit that you are caught by the invisible glochid monster (the tiny, ever-present prickly and painful hairs on the skin of the fruit). Harvest with tongs and a knife, handle with tongs or gloves, and even after you think the glochids are gone, still handle with care. I personally have had too many run-ins with evil glochids already. They hurt and are annoyingly difficult to retrieve from your fingers. A plantain (plantago spp.) spit poultice can help if you do get stuck.
Prickly Pear Margarita
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
2 ounces Prickly Pear Infused Tequila
2 ounces Prickly Pear Syrup
1 ½ ounces Fresh Lime Juice
½ ounce Triple Sec
Turbinado Sugar (for making the syrup and garnishing glasses)
To make the infused tequila:
Burn the glochids (invisible, evil, painful, tiny spine-like hairs of the prickly pear) off by holding the fruit over a flame on the stove-top, rotating to expose all sides to the flame. This doesn’t take long, and you can hear them sizzle and occasionally see one explode in a little mini-flash, which will keep you entertained during the process. Cut your tunas in quarters and fill a glass jar loosely (any size jar will do, depending on how much tequila you want), leaving a bit of space at the top, and then fill again with a fine tequila of your choosing (use 100% agave tequila). Infuse for 2-5 days, shaking occasionally. I find longer than that isn’t necessary: the fruit begins to fall apart and has lost most of it’s color by day 5.
If you need it quicker than that, no problem. Cut very ripe tunas in half lengthwise, and scoop the fruit out of the skin with a spoon or knife. Chop roughly. Fill your jar about 70% full with the chopped, skinned tunas, and then fill with tequila. Shake it up a bunch. Smash the fruit up with the spoon a bit a few times. Your tequila will be ready in 12-24 hours. Shake whenever you think of it.
When finished strain through a sieve or cheesecloth.
To make the simple syrup:
Cut 4 large tunas in half lengthwise and scoop the fruit from the skins with a spoon or knife. Cut each tuna into a few pieces. Then combine the fruits with 2 cups water and 1 cup turbinado sugar in a medium pan. Stir well and simmer over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Strain fruit through a sieve and press the fruit well through the screen, leaving seeds behind. I use more water than a traditional simple syrup calls for because the tunas are quite mucilaginous, and this thickens the syrup a bit, and also because too much sweetness can overpower the unique tart flavors that are the signature of this drink.
To make the margarita:
If you have a cocktail shaker, use it. I just toss it all in a clean mason jar, and shake away. Lightly dust a plate with turbinado sugar (with a pinch of cayenne, if you’re adventurous), and put some lime juice in a saucer. Dip the rim of your glass in the lime juice, and then the sugar. Add ice, and pour your margarita from the shaker to the glass. Garnish with a lime. And cheers to the fall-spring!