Saturday, August 26, 2006

Kudzu blossom jelly

I have had, I admit, an uneasy relationship with kudzu. On one hand, I think the invasive Japanese vine has given the South a particularly haunting, Gothic appearance that, in some ways, has come to define the region. It is undeniably beautiful.

On the other hand, when we bought our property, kudzu had so completely taken it over that we had to hire a man with a front-loader to scrape it off (to the tune of several acres) and burn it. I will always remember that night in December 2002. It was incredibly cold for Georgia--maybe 7 degrees, or 11--and before attending the town Christmas party, I styled my hair by candlelight in the unfinished bathroom, with my breath visible before me. I walked outside and saw our yard red-embered in the frost and silence.

But the next year I discovered something no one had ever told me. In August, the remaining kudzu--hanging like a menace in the trees along the property line--bloomed. It bloomed purple. It bloomed with a scent that was like an explosion of grapes and pheromones.

Ever since then, even as we vigilantly protect our yard from the creeping vines, we look forward to the blossoming. You smell it before you see it. One day, usually a sunny day after a hard rain, you walk out the back door and the odor rushes over you like a sultry, delicious torrent.

This year, I determined to bottle it.

The jelly recipe in the link is phenomenally easy; I think it took me a total of half an hour, not including the time I spent tugging on tree limbs with a shepherd's crook to gather the blossoms. At first it seems as though it will be disappointing. The blossom "tea" is brownish and doesn't smell like the smell. But then when the lemon juice, pectin and sugar are added, it becomes brilliantly plum-red and begins to exude sexiness.

I'm stunned by the result. The jelly's flavor is a tiny bit vegetal, a little floral, and overwhelmingly Concord-grapey, just like the scent of the flowers. It is possibly the best jelly on earth. Why isn't it better known? Why haven't people declared it a local delicacy to be enjoyed on an international scale, like caviar or foie gras?

If you have any way at all of getting hold of kudzu blossoms, I implore you to try it.