Yields 3 to 4 (1/2-pint) jars
For the syrup:
- 24 red, ripe prickly pear tunas (about 3 1/2 pounds)
- 4 cups organic cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon citric acid (available at most supermarkets)
For the ice cream:
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup prickly pear syrup
- 2 tablespoons Paula’s Texas Orange (or other top-quality orange liqueur)
- 1/2 orange, zested and juiced
- 1/2 cup piñons, for topping
Process the prickly pear tunas into juice.
No need to peel the tunas: A tightly woven jelly bag or flour cloth will strain out the glochids along with the skins and seeds. (If you’re using Mexican grocery or farmers’ market tunas, those will probably be Opuntia ficus-indica
anyway—a domesticated, spineless variety.) Wearing rubber gloves, scrub the tunas with a vegetable brush in cold water, then cut them into quarters and add to a deep pot. Add about 1 cup water and simmer the tunas for 45 minutes, or until completely soft; you will be surprised at how much juice they release— prickly pear tunas are 85 to 90 percent water.
Strain through a jelly bag or two thicknesses of flour cloth; let drip for 2 to 3 hours. You can press gently on the pulp with a wooden spoon, but not too much; you want the flavors of the flesh, not the skin. Strain a second time through a clean jelly bag for the clearest possible juice.
Measure 4 cups strained prickly pear juice into a large pot over high heat, add the sugar, bring to a boil, and continue to boil for 25 minutes. While the syrup boils, prepare a water-bath canner and bring it to a simmer (180° F) over medium heat. Heat 4 (1/2 pint) jelly jars in the canner, either upside down or on their sides. In a saucepan, add enough water to cover the lids and bands, bring to a simmer (180° F) over medium heat; do not boil. Keep lids hot until you’re ready to apply them.
Remove the prickly pear pot from the heat and stir in the citric acid. When the water in the canner begins to simmer, use tongs to remove the jars. Ladle the hot syrup into the hot jars, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Using a bubble remover or plastic utensil, remove any air bubbles, then wipe the jar rims clean and apply the lids and bands. Return the jars to the canner, with enough water to cover the tops of the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.
Uncover the canner and turn off the heat. After 5 minutes, remove the jars and let them cool. Allow the jars to cool to room temperature, check the seals, remove bands, and store in a cool dry place for up to a year. Once opened,
store in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Make a classic custard:
(Cook’s note: Don’t break your custard! Use a candy thermometer; 170° F is perfect; over 175° F and you’ll need to start over.)
Combine the milk and cream in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Scrape the inside of the vanilla bean with the dull side of a knife, then add the scrapings and the bean itself to the saucepan. Heat to scalding, then remove the pan from the heat, remove the vanilla bean, and let the liquid cool.
Beat the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a flat beater on high speed. Add the sugar
gradually, beating until the mixture is fluffy and lemon-colored. When the milk mixture has cooled enough to comfortably touch with your finger for 10 seconds, ladle out a cup of it into the egg mixture, with the mixer running on low speed. Return the saucepan of remaining milk back to the stovetop on medium-high heat and slowly pour in the now-tempered egg mixture, stirring continuously.
When a candy thermometer placed in the pan reads 170° F, the custard is done. Pour the custard into a nonreactive
bowl or container, stir in the prickly pear syrup, orange liqueur, juice and zest, and smoothly lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and up the sides of the bowl so the custard does not develop a skin. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Toast the piñons in a dry cast-iron skillet over high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they become fragrant and toasty-gold colored; let cool on a paper towel.
Process the ice cream in a 2-quart ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with toasted piñons and a drizzle of prickly pear syrup.