Sweet fuel for canyon trip
Contributed photo, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy students Jamie Ricksecker, Rachel Romero, Michael Dickinson, Kelly Flynn and Cooper Barghols surround a bowl of prickly pear fruits. Sixth-grade students, family and staff turn the fruits into jelly and syrup to raise funds.

There's no wrapping paper, cookie dough or coupon books on sale this holiday at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy.

For the ninth year in a row, students at the Northwest school are producing and selling jelly and syrup from the fruits of prickly pear cacti. This year’s profits help pay for the school's annual sixth-grade class retreat to the Grand Canyon.

"Operation Prickly Pear" involves the entire sixth-grade class, students, parents and teachers, from harvesting fruit to the production and packaging of jelly and syrup.

Students learn how to properly identify the ripe fruits and carefully remove the spines with tongs. Cheri’s Desert Harvest now extracts the juice, which is processed, then combined with other ingredients to make jelly and syrup. Products are labeled and packaged for everyday use, or dressed for holiday gift-giving.

The prickly pear, called “tunas” in Mexico and “sabras” in Israel, is rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, and very popular in Mexico, Central and South America, the Mediterranean and parts of Africa. It is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, where menu items now include prickly pear lemonade and ice tea, margaritas, sauces and glazes.

It’s good on sandwiches, according to Pusch Ridge mom Wendi Rossi, who sends peanut butter and prickly pear jelly sandwiches to school with students Chris and Mikayla Rossi.

“I think jelly making is the best part of this fundraiser,” said parent Carla Ellis. “You learn something new, meet new people and make lasting friendships.”

The Grand Canyon trip is a three-day excursion in March. Students take a chartered bus to Williams and ride the Grand Canyon Railway train to the canyon.

Jars of jelly or syrup sell for $5 each, or $55 for a dozen. People may call 797-0107 to purchase. The school has a booth at the Oro Valley Farmers Market the next two Saturdays, Dec. 4 and 11, and at the Oro Valley Fry’s and Safeway stores.

Pusch Ridge Christian Academy is located at 9500 N. Oracle Road.

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