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Fall is the time to pick Florida's native beautyberries (Callicarpa Americana) now growing on shrubs in clusters along roadsides, in pineland and hammock forests, or in parks. Beautyberries are distinctive, with bright purple berries growing on long woody stems and green leaves.

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The first question most people ask is, "Are beautyberries edible?"

The answer is that beautyberries are not very tasty when picked directly from the bush, but are delicious when made into a jelly or poured as a sauce over ice cream.

Some say the jelly tastes like an elderberry jelly, but with a unique "grape-like" flavor all its own.

If beautyberries are not growing in your yard, this recipe will require a hike or walk outdoors as the berries are not usually sold commercially, unless purchased in a potted container. So this recipe is ideal for those who like to forage outdoors. 

To help you identify outdoor areas that may have beautyberries, call the Sarasota agricultural extension office for public locations that will allow you to pick your own. Also, most Florida plant nurseries have the shrubs for sale, so you can re-plant them in your own yard. Even if you don't make the jelly, the bush is a lovely addition to your landscape and will attract wildlife, especially mockingbirds.

So, grab a bucket and collect the berries by slowly combing off the berries from the branches and letting them fall into the containers. Or you may want to take garden clippers to cut the branches and take them home to remove the berries from the stems. I recommend taking 12-15 branches to get the needed 1 ½ quarts of berries. Happy canning!

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Beautyberry Jelly

Ingredients

1 1/2 quarts beautyberries (6 cups), rinsed

2 quarts water (8 cups)

6 cups sugar

3 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 package of Sure-Jell pectin (1.75 oz)

Special Equipment:

A 6-quart sauce pan

Ladle

Cheesecloth (or a muslin cloth, or tea towel) or a large hand held strainer, for use in pressing the juice out of the berries

9 (8 oz.) glass canning jars, sterilized

Step One

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Wash the beautyberries in a colander to remove unwanted twigs and leaves.

Place the 1 ½ quarts of beautyberries into a 6-quart pan. Cover the berries with 2 quarts of water. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil, cooking for 20 minutes. Set aside to let the mixture cool down for handling, about 10-15 minutes.

Step Two

While the berries are boiling, measure three 24-inch pieces of cheesecloth (or use a muslin cloth, or tea towel), layering one on top of another. Alternatively, if you want to use a large hand strainer by mashing the berries to remove the sauce, that works too.

Place the cheesecloth in a large bowl.

Step Three

Next, ladle or pour the boiled berries and juice into the cheesecloth. Pull the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a ball, knotting the top, while squeezing the juice into the bowl. Make sure to get out all the juice. 

Step Four

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Take the juice and place back into a clean pan. Add the Sure-Jell pectin and bring to a boil. 

Add 6 cups of sugar and 3 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Continue to cook at a steady boil for another 2 minutes, or until the juice is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon or reaches 212 degrees on a candy thermometer). I find that the jelly thickens even more after canning and sitting overnight.

Remove from heat, and skim foam from the beautyberry juice with a spoon.

Step Five

Using a ladle, pour the beautyberry juice into the sterilized jars, securing the lids on tightly.

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