Kudzu harvest yields sweet jelly

Published 10:01 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Folks can have their mince pies, Agnes Johnson would rather have her “menace” jelly.

For several years in mid-August, Johnson has been making her way to the kudzu vines that have invaded the property around her home in Troy. She pulls back the leaves of the “menacing” plant, seeks out its purple blooms and strips them bare.

From the blooms of the menacing kudzu vine, she will make jelly as sweet as sugar itself. “Somebody mentioned that you could make jelly out of kudzu blooms, and the very next day, I looked in The Messenger and there was the recipe,” Johnson said. “So, I decided that I had the recipe, and I would try it. I did. And, I liked it so I keep making kudzu jelly.”

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Johnson said kudzu jelly’s not hard to make.

“When you’ve got Sur Gel, you can make jelly out of anything,” Johnson said, laughing. “Gathering the blooms takes a little time. Just looking at kudzu from a distance, you won’t see the blooms unless they are hanging. If the kudzu is growing on the ground, you have to pull back the leaves and look for the blooms. But it doesn’t take many. You just need four cups for a making of jelly.”

The blooms have to be picked before late August at the earliest or early September at the latest.

“If you wait too long, those little green worms will get on the vines,” Johnson said. “I don’t pick blooms when the worms are on the vines.”

Johnson said the kudzu jelly recipe she clipped from the newspaper has long since disappeared, but she remembers enough to make jelly from the menace plant that was actually a Japanese invasion.

The Japanese brought kudzu to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.

What was, at first, a popular ornamental plant and cover plant quickly turned into a menace in the United States.

In the summer, the plant grows about 12 inches in a day’s time so, in almost no time, it will cover trees, telephone poles and anything else that’s at a standstill.

Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi can bemoan about seven million acres of kudzu.

Johnson can’t begin to imagine how many jars of jelly that acreage would produce.

“I only need four cups to the making,” she said. “Then all you do is add the four cups of blooms to four cups of boiling water. When the mixture cools, put it in the refrigerator overnight. The recipe said how long to leave it in the refrigerator. But, I lost the recipe, so I just leave it overnight.”

The next day, strain the blooms. To the liquid, add one tablespoon of lemon juice, one package of Sur Gel and a tad of butter, “to keep the juice from boiling over.”

“Bring the juice to a rolling boil and add five cups of sugar and bring to a rolling boil for one minute,” Johnson said.

“Pour the jelly in the jars, seal, and it’s ready to eat when it cools.”

Johnson said she usually eats kudzu jelly on buttered toast.

“It’s good with biscuits, too, but I have more buttered toast than biscuits,” she said, laughing.

“Kudzu jelly has a musky, grape taste, and I like it and most people do once they’ve tried it.”

Johnson recommends kudzu jelly over most others.

After all, the kudzu blooms are free for the taking, and there are plenty kudzu vines to pick from. And, in the kitchen, anyone can turn a menace plant into a sweet jar of jelly, and it’s “as easy as one-two-three.”