Cactus candy is a delicious and unique candy that you can easily make in your kitchen. Odds are that you won’t have enough room in a container garden on your balcony to grow paddle cactus (aka prickly pear or nopal cactus), but you can harvest the cactus’ fruits if you live in the Southwest.
When collecting the prickly pear fruits, make sure you have permission from the property owner (you can even offer to give them some of the cactus candy that you are planning to make).
Step 1: Pick the paddle cactus fruit. To make cactus candy, harvest the fruits (aka tunas) late in the season (between May and August) when they are so ripe that they are about to fall off the plants. The fruits should be a very dark purple that give a little when squeezed. Be careful about the spines that may hurt you. Wear thick gloves to protect your hands.
Step 2: Clean and chop the cactus fruits. Scrub the paddle cactus fruits with a brush to get rid of the spines and any dirt. Chop each fruit in half and soak them in cold water overnight.
Step 3: Cook the paddle cactus fruits. Cut the fruits into smaller 1-inch pieces and put them in a pan and pour water over them (the top of the water should be even with the top layer of fruits). Cook them under medium heat for 20 minutes.
Step 4: Strain the cactus fruits. Use a cheesecloth and colander to strain the juice from the cooked paddle cactus fruits.
Step 5: Boil the juice. Heat the juice to a rolling boil and add 1 cup of sugar per cup of cactus fruit juice. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Step 6: Bake the paddle cactus fruit juice. Remove the juice from the heat and pour it onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake this mixture in a 350-degree oven for 5 minutes.
Step 7: Cool the candy. After removing the cookie sheet from the oven, allow the prickly pear candy to completely cool.
Step 8: Cut the candy and store. Cut the candy into candy-sized pieces and wrap it up for later!
Note: There are a few variations on this recipe. You can also add several teaspoons of orange and lemon juice to the syrup, and some people add the chopped cactus fruit bits back into the candy. The candy can also be rolled in powdered or granulated sugar before serving.