Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making beautyberry jelly

So, I was driving on my way to an errand and sort of lamenting the cold dreary day and the bare trees. Although this wonderful part of the world has many useful plants all year round, I miss the bounty and constant thrill of discovery that spring and summer have to offer.

J. Callicarpa, What a lovely sight on an icky early winter day!

When I reached my destination, I turned a corner and spotted this as part of the landscaping. This is a plant I've read about and longed to meet, but never had the pleasure.  When I finished my errand, I came back to this spot and quickly harvested a baby wipes container full(the only thing I had in the car)in the cold and wet and very public place by stripping whole branches into it while passersby stared and smirked. American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is famous for it's jelly, the berries are reportedly tasteless out of hand but once cooked and sweetened, offer an exquisite flavor.

The plant I found however, was Japanese beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica). After thoroughly searching, I found a few reports of this berry being eaten as a trail nibble, but no accounts of jelly being made from it. I really wanted to make jelly, so I studied as much as I could about this plant as I laboriously separated the tiny berries from the calyxes and leaves. At one point My seven year old daughter walked into the kitchen and gasped, "Those are beautiful!"  They are aptly named!
J. Callicarpa leaves and berries

I came to the conclusion that the berries were certainly not deadly, likely not toxic, but possibly not edible. So I decided to carefully test it out. The berries were quite sweet and tasty out of hand. I dehydrated the leaves in my oven overnight, which filled the house with a dizzying perfume. I will use them in the spring to make a natural, effective insect repellent.
Sorted berries, Pictures do not do that color justice!
I loosely followed the recipe given by Green Deane for beautyberry jelly. I used two parts water to one part berries and boiled until the water was slightly colored and the berries were more or less drained of their color. I then strained through a sieve and again through a coffee filter to get rid of all debris. To the liquid, of which i had a little over two cups, I added about two tablespoons of lemon juice, which turned the almost gray liquid a vivid fushia, and three tablespoons of pectin. I boiled it according to the directions on the pectin jar and added about a cup of sugar. I brought it back to a rolling boil and stirred it for two minutes.
Yummy pink goodness

The resulting jelly I stored in a pint jar with the warning label as seen. My daughter is a jelly addict and would have been instantly attracted to that beautiful color. I wanted the adults to test it first. I ate about three tablespoons on the sourdough rolls I was baking that day. I also had my husband sample it and after 48 hours without any ill effect, I'm officially declaring for all the Internet to see that Japanese beautyberry berries are edible and tasty and make great jelly. So there!