Probably one of the most delicious fermented brews that I’ve enjoyed is Prickly Pear mead. Okay, maybe technically its called a “melomel” because it is fermented honey and fruit. But, technicalities aside, with prickly pear fruit in season now, its a great time to make use of this delicious abundant native fruit here in Southern California (and throughout the United States and Mexico).
The process of creating this beautifully hued indulgence is pretty easy, but remember that sanitation is crucial. You don’t want any harmful critters growing in your brew.
Prickly Pear Mead/Melomel
A Note About Equipment: You will need a fermenting vessel. I used a 5 gallon carboy from my local homebrew shop. An airlock is quite helpful. While making mead is probably one of the oldest practices of beverage brewing, sanitation is very important. Be sure to thoroughly wash all equipment that comes in contact with your brew. Some people recommend sanitizing with bleach, but I find that hot soapy water works just fine.
Ingredients for 5 gallons:
20 lbs. raw unfiltered local honey (I used black sage honey)
6lbs. prickly pear fruits
2.5 gallons spring water
Pectin enzyme (see notes below)
First things first… HOW do you get past those evil spines and glochids (the irritating hairlike spines) to use these delectably sweet little treasures? When harvesting, you can use a small broom or brush to vigorously brush away the spines which is quite effective. Also, rolling them around on the ground can be helpful too.
However, I’m all about saving time and energy when possible, so, these were harvested with tongs and tossed in a bag and stored in the freezer. When it was time to juice them, I put them in a large bowl and allowed to defrost. As they came to room temp, I used a potato masher to mush them up a bit and then poured off the juice through a strainer into a jar.
Prickly pear will lose its flavor if boiled, and many recipes will suggest boiling for 30 min or more, but I’m not about to risk losing this incredible flavor. In order to pasteurize the juice, I put it into a pot with the water and simmered at about 160° for 15 minutes or so. (Next time I’m considering just using raw juice…?) Once, cooled, I added the raw honey (it must be raw because that’s where you get your natural wild yeast!) and mixed it well. I poured this into the 5 gallon carboy and attached the airlock.
* From what I’m learning, since prickly pear is high in pectin (which is why it makes a fantastic jelly like my mom makes), it will need a pectin enzyme in order to clear later on in the process. I’m still experimenting with this and will update this post when I have more information, but ideally, I’d like to keep this brew as natural and “wild” as possible.
Within a few hours or so, the brew was ferociously fermenting—the airlock giving off a CO2 bubble every few seconds! This will ferment for at least 6 months and then can be fermented again, or, just enjoyed at any point along the way.
Fermenting is a journey and there are no hard-fast rules. Sometimes there are happy accidents, sometimes you get to feed your compost pile with a stinky mess, OR, you end up with an awesome concoction that your friends and family will honor you for.
Happy fermenting! 😀