Jason Horn is an adventurous cook: Honestly, how many home cooks do you know who would risk a tumble down a steep hill for a few jars of jelly? We’ve been friends for at least three years now, and he’s still an adventurous cook (keep up with him at themessyepicure.com). Shortly after I met Jason, he started baking sourdough bread made from a 160-year-old Oregon Trail starter he got via mail order from a group called Friends of Carl. He baked and brought bread to work every week. He played with adding cheese to the bread (never a bad idea, cheese), and I think more than once he added white chocolate. Earlier this year, he invited me over for a Frank Stitt vs. Thomas Keller Challenge: He found similar recipes for stuffed roast pork loin and coconut cake from both chefs, spent two days brining, prepping and cooking, and then had a group of people over to decide whose cuisine reigns supreme.
Jason’s from Chicago, which is not a bad town for food, and he had an affinity for Asian food early on—his neighborhood Chinese restaurant catered his Bar Mitzvah. Jason says his mother used to tell him he should become a restaurant reviewer, which isn’t far from what Jason does now; he’s a freelance food writer. He did a stint working for the food site Chow.com in San Francisco (which is a great food town) before moving to Birmingham. (He also helped a friend raise and kill two pigs, but that’s another man’s story.)
So about this crazy picture: This summer I went to the Southern Foodways Alliance Buford Highway Field Trip, and while on my own eating adventure called The Nasty Bits Tour (that’s another story too, involving duck intestines and pig blood pudding), I met a woman named Barbara Hyman who gave me a recipe for kudzu jelly. I mentioned the kudzu jelly on my Facebook page… and Jason wanted to try it. He kept watch for kudzu blossoms, and we’d almost given up that they would even blossom at all this year. Finally, in September, he emailed me: He’d spotted some. We went to Vulcan Trail early one evening for our first adventure at foraging for food. Jason braved the edge of a steep drop to reach for some half-shriveled kudzu flowers.
We gathered enough for half a batch of jelly. And on our way back down the trail, we quickly discovered that tiny little bugs really like kudzu blossoms: There were a hundreds of them crawling around the bag. So, we got to Jason’s kitchen, plucked the blossoms from the stems, and rinsed. And rinsed. And rinsed… a dozen times.
Kudzu jelly’s very simple to make—simpler than some other jellies and jams. Once we’d gotten rid of the little bugs, we poured boiling water over the blossoms and let them steep for eight hours:
The next morning Jason strained the liquid through cheesecloth to get rid of the blossoms. Then he added lemon juice and pectin, brought it all to a boil, added lots of sugar, skimmed it, and poured it into jelly jars. And voila! Kudzu jelly, with a kind of purpley-rosy color, tasting and smelling faintly of grapes.
Makes 6 8-ounce jars
4 cups kudzu blossoms
4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1.75-ounce box of pectin (such as Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin)
5 cups sugar
Wash blossoms in cold water and place in large bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over blossoms. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.
Sterilize six jelly jars.
Pour liquid into colander lined with three layers of cheesecloth to drain; discard blossoms. Liquid will be brownish. Add lemon juice, which changes the color to a beautiful light magenta. Stir pectin into liquid. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar and return to full rolling boil. Cook for 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Skim off foam with metal spoon. Quickly pour into prepared jars, wipe rims and cover with flat lids. Screw on metal bands and invert jars for five minutes; then turn upright.
Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
(Shaun’s note: The US Government really discourages the method here of inverting jars to seal them: There is a risk that the vacuum seal won’t be as strong as if you boil your filled jars, and bacteria can seep in. Read more about canning at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and here’s more about the boiling method for canning.)