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American Beautyberry Jelly

A lovely, bright, vibrant jelly can be made from the berries of the Callicarpa americana. Yep, it’s All-American and easy as pie! These are American Beautyberries.

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It always makes me happy to watch the mockingbirds enjoy this fruit in the fall of the year, but I didn’t know people could enjoy it just as well. After doing the research, I found that there is one basic jelly recipe all over the Internet, but people were reporting varied success.

For the sake of honesty, I will admit that my first batch of American Beautyberry jelly was a little less than perfect. But iI did manage to make a tasty syrup. We enjoyed the syrup on vanilla ice cream, on pound cake which had been spread with homemade yogurt cheese, and on angel food cake.

So I tweaked the recipe a bit. Yes, I added apples and some lemon juice. I also changed the timing. When the all-important “timing” is mentioned in the original recipe, I completely ignore the second hand on the clock and look only at the jelly as it falls off the spoon – I am waiting for the jelly to talk to me and tell me that it is ready.

I harvested about half of the American Beautyberries from four bushes without regard to measurement, leaving enough for the birds. Never having picked these before, I found I was a little heavy-handed at first and squished quite a few before I developed just the right gentle touch required to coax the berries from around the stem. Love the sound as they plink into the stainless steel bowl. Learning from my experience with “wildlife” living on the berries, I placed the covered bowl in the fridge for the night. The next day as I propped up my legs and watched some old black and white television shows, I carefully cleaned the berries, picking out any green bits of plant material and any berries which were underripe. The berries had a nice bath in several changes of cool water. Okay, now we cook them to make the infusion.

(Before you do this next step please look below for the update, thanks.)

Place the berries in a heavy pan, just barely cover them with cold, filtered water, bring up the heat, and go pay some bills or make a phone call. About 20-30 minutes later you can mash the berries – use a potato masher, a wooden spoon, a clean 2 x 4 – whatever works for you. I use either my vintage 40s Samson masher, which lost the green paint on the handle years ago, or my Mom’s old Ekco potato masher:
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Line a colander with a clean cloth (flour-sack dish towels work great) and place over a large bowl, pour in the mashed berry/water mixture and let it drain without any further mashing or squeezing to get a clear jelly without cloudiness. At this point, you can cover and leave the whole set-up in the fridge until tomorrow if you like.

Cut up 3 Granny Smith apples, place in a pan with water, and cook until they are soft enough to mash – time approximately 25 minutes. Give them the same mashing treatment and set them to drain in a separate colander setup. Yes, you people with the well-stocked kitchens and impressive normal coordination could have two pots on the stove simultaneously stirring with two long-handled spoons, but that won’t fly in my kitchen. I am dyslexic, so it might just be flying all over the stove.

Pretty much everyone knows the drill about sterilizing jars, so I’ll skip to the good stuff.

Using the basics of a recipe which may or may not have originated on the Eat the Weeds blog, possibly as an altered elderberry recipe, I started by measuring the Beautyberry juice into a very large, heavy pot. Didn’t have quite enough juice, so I added the apple juice to measure a full 3 cups total. Add one box of powdered Sure-Jell. Yes, I know my favorite pectin is liquid Certo, but I was already messing with the recipe and didn’t want to jinx it; besides, Certo is added at the end of the cooking and I’m not re-writing history here. then add the strained juice of one lemon. My mother usually added just a small piece of butter (from a cow, not from a chemical factory) at this point, not even a 1/2 pat, and it would keep the jelly from foaming too much. Just a small note here. When you add lemon juice it’s okay to use the bottled lemon juice as that has a consistent amount of acid whereas using an actual real lemon does not.

Turn the heat on high and have a good long spoon to stir the juice. Keep stirring until the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil. If you have never seen a full, rolling boil with your own eyes, check several YouTube videos – it can be very frightening to see the jelly climb up and almost out of the pot and can be extremely dangerous and messy if the pot is too small – ask me about my very first experience in my own mother’s kitchen! No, she never did forgive me for the sticky mess, sorry to say.

You may want to shut off your phone for a while as you really have to pay attention to the liquid as it comes up to temperature. Dump in the pre-measured sugar – carefully because that’s hot stuff you are working with and this stuff can spit like lava; the scar remains on my right arm from the aforementioned incident. Keep stirring and don’t stop for anything until the full, rolling boil happens again.

It is at this point that most recipes will tell you to watch the clock’s second hand for exactly one minute. Some recipes might even say exactly two minutes. Don’t believe it. Don’t watch the clock. Watch the spoon. Lift the spoon horizontally above the pot, tilt the spoon slightly and watch the liquid coming off the spoon. Do this every 15 seconds and gradually you will see the jelly start to change. It might be one minute or 1 1/2 or 2 minutes. Don’t argue with the jelly. I have had some stubborn jelly that wanted its full 3 minutes of fame. This not rocket science; it all depends on the moisture and pectin content of the berries as well as the temperature of the juice mixture, the barometric pressure, humidity, altitude….hmm, not rocket science, eh?

My little trick was to use the apple juice. Most people who are a little short of juice will add water, and recipes even tell you to add water. But by adding the juice of the unpeeled cooked apples, it increases the amount of natural pectin in the mix without watering down the juice mixture.

By now, you have all your jars and lids ready to go, so shut off the heat and use a clean spoon to skim off the residue from the surface of the jelly for about one minute. I put the skimmings into a clear jar as some usable jelly will settle to the bottom and provide good samples.

Fill your jars, keep the rims and threads clean, hand-tighten the lids, and either:

– quickly invert the jars so they sit upside down for one minute, then return to the upright position, or
– process in a boiling water bath for 5-10 minutes, or
– a third option is to pour 1/8 – 1/4 inch melted paraffin wax on the surface of the jelly in each jar making sure the wax seals completely to the edge of the jar. That’s going old school. Later you can add little circles of gingham cloth and tie with a ribbon. Granny would be so proud.

Let sit undisturbed for 24 hours in a draft-free location as the jars cool.

What? I can’t even have a taste until tomorrow?
Well, sure you can, there is a nice sample in that skimmings jar, remember?

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How does it taste? Mmmmm, good and sweet, a little tart, kind of tangy. Oh, and the color…

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Remember, even if you mess up with the timing, you may still end up with very colorful, tasty syrup!

Originally published November 2013

When I first wrote this article it wasn’t so much a recipe as a recipe for potential disaster, but for those who asked for measurements I used 4 1/2 cups of sugar to 3 cups of juice, the juice of one lemon which I did not actually measure, one box of powdered Sure-Jell and less than 1/2 pat of butter. Please consult an actual recipe if you attempt to do this at home.

For those who prefer recipes that look as they do in cookbooks:

1 1/2 quarts beautyberries, well washed

2 Quarts filtered water

Boil together for approximately 20 minutes, mash to extract the juice from the berries.

Strain through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth or a flour sack towel.

Set a large, heavy pot on the stove. Measure 3 cups of juice into the pot, add lemon juice and 1 envelope of Sure Jell plus 4 1/2 Cups of granulated sugar. Stir. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat. Add a pat of butter. Stir and bring to a boil. You are looking for a full rolling boil. It may take 2 minutes or longer.

Remove the pot from the stove. Wait until the foam rises tot he top then skim off the foam.

Ladle into sterilized jars leaving about 1/2/inch headspace, wipe the rims and threads, add 2-part lids and hand tighten. Please consult a proper canning book for the best way to process the jars.


I learned something from my Plant Sister who lives in Thailand. She told me how to extract seeds. I used her method to remove the seeds from the beautyberries before I cooked them that way the seeds remain viable and can be shared, sold, or planted. Here is the method: Place some of the washed berries into my Oster blender with just enough water. Push a few buttons on the blender. The skin and pulp will rise to the surface of the water and the seeds will sink. Pour off the pulp and water, collecting the pulp in a sieve and the water in a bowl. Pour off the seeds – these will later be cleaned and dried. Reuse the same water to process the berries until all the seeds have been removed. Since I have well water, I used bottled spring water or filtered water for this. This same process can be used to remove the seeds from fresh elderberries.

Update: October 2018

Did some foraging and collected American beautyberries to make jam or jelly. I used the Oster blender to remove the seeds from the pulp so I could share the seeds with plant friends. Here is a dinner plate full of lovely seeds. 



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Pudding, Southern Style Banana Pudding


3/4 C sugar
1/3 C flour (not self-rising)
dash of salt
3 eggs, separated
2 C milk
1 t vanilla extract
45 Vanilla Wafers…yes, you have to count them!
5 bananas, sliced

Heat oven to 350F.
Mix flour, salt, and 1/2 Cup sugar in the top of a double boiler. Blend in 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten. Add milk. Cook, uncovered, over boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and stir.

Set aside 12 Vanilla Wafers; they will be used as a garnish.

Working in a 1 1/2 quart baking dish, spread a small amount of the custard on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of Vanilla Wafers. Then add a layer of sliced bananas. Then a layer of the custard. Repeat the layers twice more. (Note: It’s a good idea to use a clear glass oven-proof bowl for making this so everyone can see the layers.)

Beat the egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar, keep beating until stiff peaks form. Spread the eggs whites over the custard, remember to seal all the way to the edges of the baking dish.

Bake. Keep an eye on it. You want the egg whites to just get a nice even brown, don’t let it burn. It might take 5 minutes, or maybe a few more minutes. Just keep watching for the nice brown color. Remove from oven. Let it cool a while. Refrigerate. Add the 12 Vanilla Wafers on top and serve.

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Pudding, Arrowroot Vanilla Pudding

(I like arrowroot because it doesn’t have a taste like flour or cornstarch.)

2 1/2 C milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 C honey, maple syrup or sugar
4 T arrowroot powder
1/4 t salt
1-2 T butter
1 1/2 t vanilla extract

Working in a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, milk, sweetener, arrowroot powder, and salt.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until pudding begins to thicken. Cook and stir 15-20 more seconds. Arrowroot works very fast to thicken.

Remove from heat, continue to stir until pudding is creamy. A spoon can be used to stir but a wire whisk makes creamier pudding.

Add butter and vanilla, stir until mixed.

Pour into serving dishes. Pudding can be served warm or cold. Don’t forget about the skin. Your choice, cover or don’t cover.

For more information about using arrowroot, check this link:…

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Pudding, Vanilla Pudding (without eggs)


2 1/2 C whole milk (half milk/half cream may be used)
3 T cornstarch
dash of salt
2 t vanilla extract
2 T butter (unsalted is best; if using salted butter, omit the dash of salt mentioned earlier)

Working in a heavy-bottom saucepan, pour 2 Cups of milk, sugar, and salt. Medium-low heat. Cook and stir just until mixture begins to steam. Do not boil.

In a bowl combine cornstarch and remaining milk, blend so there are no lumps. Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly until it starts to thicken. It should almost but not quite come to a boil. Reduce heat to low/very low, cook and stir for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla.

(I cheat and place the milk and cornstarch into a shaker jar, the kind used to make homemade powdered protein drinks, then pour through a strainer into the hot mixture while stirring constantly.)

This next part may start a fight at your house. Spoon hot pudding into small glass serving dishes. Immediately cover each dish with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on top of the pudding. That’s where the fight comes in. Some of us actually like that skin.

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Dog Treats that people can eat!

2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 C of cooked pumpkin or cooked sweet potato pureed
3 T peanut butter
2 T dry powdered milk
3 C flour (whole wheat, barley, rice, etc.)

Combine eggs and pumpkin and mix well.
Add peanut butter and dry milk; mix well.
Gradually add flour a cup at a time to make a firm dough.
Divide dough into 2 parts.
Flour cutting board and roll dough to 1/2″ thickness.
For a crunchier treat roll to 3/8″ or 1/4″.
Use a cookie cutter or just cut with a knife into desired shapes.

Place treats on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
Bake at 350F for 20-24 minutes depending on thickness and oven temperature.
Allow treats to cool on racks before storing.

These are treats for dogs but people can eat them, too!

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Bran Muffin Batter

Make ahead; keep refrigerated.
In a large bowl combine:
6 C wheat bran
2 C boiling water
1 C shortening

Stir until shortening has melted; allow to cool before continuing.
Add 4 large eggs, mix well.
In a separate bowl mix together:
5 C all-purpose flour
3 C sugar
5 t baking soda

Add the dry ingredients to the bran mixture alternately with 4 C buttermilk; stirring after each addition.
Keep this batter in a covered container in the refrigerator. the recipe will make 48-60 muffins.

The batter should be made a day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator to allow ingredients to blend.

When ready to make muffins, preheat oven to 400F.
Either grease muffin tins or use paper liners.
Mix raisins, shredded apple, currants, dried (unsweetened) cranberries, chopped dates, and/or shredded carrots into some of the batter. Fill each muffin only 3/4 full. Before baking, I like to sprinkle the top of each muffin with a good amount of white sugar. Makes a nice, crunchy topping. Bake 18-22 minutes. Note: If making the mini-size muffins, adjust baking time, maybe 12-14 minutes. Test for doneness using a toothpick.

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Pudding, Chocolate/Avocado Pudding

This is as easy to eat as it is to eat! And the one thing you hardly taste is the avocado.

It’s like magic pudding.

2 avocados; peeled, pitted, cut into cubes (Hass if you have them.)
1/2 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 Cup brown sugar (light or dark); (or alternate sugar of your choice)
1/3 Coconut milk (or substitute ‘milk’ of your choice)
2 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of sea salt
Chuck everything into a blender or food processor. Chill. Serve. How hard is that?!

Check online to see the many variations, some add peanut butter, some use date sugar or agave syrup, at least one adds a banana; lots of possibilities.

Note: Hass avocado named after Rudolph Hass.

But why choose between only two types of avocados. There are lots of different avocados depending on where you live and what the season is and in which hemisphere you are shopping/growing. I’m not sure if the list of avocados will ever be complete; here, check this out:…

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Cajun Fried ‘Gator

1 lb boneless ‘gator, fresh or frozen
2 T Cajun seasoning
1 t garlic powder
1 C buttermilk
1 large egg
1 t spicy mustard
5 dashes Frank’s Louisiana hot sauce (or hot sauce of your choice)
3 C lard, or vegetable shortening
2 C flour

Pat the ‘gator meat dry and place in a medium bowl. Season with the Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and hot sauce, and toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate 20 minutes at room temperature.
Remove the alligator from the dry spices.
Heat vegetable shortening in a large cast iron skillet to 350°F or use an electric deep fryer.
In a separate bowl whisk together the buttermilk, mustard, and eggs. Whisk well. In another bowl add the flour and season with Cajun seasoning.
Dip the alligator in the flour and shake off excess. Dip into the buttermilk mixture and shake off. Then dip back into the flour and shake off. Repeat this process until all the ‘gator meat is coated.
Add the ‘gator pieces to the skillet in batches being careful not to overcrowd the skillet.
Cook the ‘gator, using tongs to turn occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on the temperature of the oil, making sure the oil does not get too hot. Transfer the ‘gator to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat the process until all the ‘gator is cooked.

In the Savannah area you can buy ‘gator meat from Trapper Jack here: