It began as one of those “Who knew?” moments. Standing outside a restaurant in Myrtle Beach, surrounded by palm trees, including a pindo palm with stems laden with orange colored fruit, my mom casually mentioned, “Oh this makes the best jelly!”
That was the first time I heard of pindo palm jelly. We have a pindo palm that my husband planted several years ago, and I had noticed that, come August and September, it was full of berries but never considered that the fruit might be edible. The pindo palm, also called a ‘jelly palm,’ is a Brazilian native known by its scientific name Butia capitata. It tolerates cooler temperatures and has become more prevalent in South Carolina. A slow grower, it can reach a mature height of 15 to 20 feet.
I had made a few jams in the past — peach and strawberry — so I searched the internet for a recipe that would be fairly simple. I came across the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I collected a gallon bucket of the berries, and my first batch set up perfectly. The jelly has a unique flavor, a bit tangy like pomegranate but with the sweetness of an orange.
I promptly collected another five buckets of fruit and ended up with a whopping 60 jars. Family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers … all received a jar of jelly from my kitchen that year!
The most time-consuming part of making palm jelly is breaking down the fruits, which are only about an inch in diameter with a thick skin and four to five seeds. The process involves bringing a large stockpot of water to a boil — I used a seafood pot — and allowing the fruit to cook down until it begins to break apart. As it cooks, use a long-handled potato masher to crush the fruit, extracting the juice. Steam from the boiling water can burn skin, so be sure to protect your hand and forearm with a long oven mitt.
My mom still asks if I have more of that delicious jelly, so come August and September, I head out once again with my bucket. But this time, I’ll leave some for the deer.
Butia Palm Fruit Jelly with Powdered Pectin
I. Collect the Juice
3 quarts fully ripe fruit
6 cups water
Sort fruit, wash and remove sepals if still attached. Barely cover with water (about 6 cups), bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. You can try to crush the fruit with a potato masher after it starts to cook; however, the seeds are so large that the masher only partially crushes.
Collect juice as it drains through a colander, then strain juice two or three times through several thicknesses of damp cheesecloth. Let sit in refrigerator overnight because it will still contain lots of solids. The next day, pour off juice, leaving residue in bottom of container, and strain juice again. The juice may never be perfectly clear. The natural color is yellowish amber. The jelly is much prettier if tinted with red food coloring.
II. Make the Jelly
5½ cups strained juice (see above)
1 box powdered pectin
Few drops red food color
7½ cups sugar
Wash and rinse half-pint canning jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare two-piece canning lids according to manufacturer’s directions. Measure palm fruit juice into a 6- or 8-quart saucepan. Stir pectin into juice until dissolved, add food coloring, and bring quickly to a hard boil, stirring occasionally. Add sugar all at once. Stir until sugar dissolves.
Bring to full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down); boil hard for 1 minute and 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; quickly skim off foam with metal spoon. Fill into clean, hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a boiling water canner. Yields about 8 half-pint jars.