Agarita Jelly Recipe

Agarita (Agarito,Berberis trifoliata, wild currant, or desert holly) is one of my favorite fruit producing bushes. One of the reasons I like it is that it is easy to recognize with its holly-like pointy evergreen gray-blue leaves.  It can grow up to 6 feet tall and is found in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is very common in the Texas Hill Country and South Texas so in a good year you will have no trouble finding plenty of fruit. This year I had to look harder for the fruit since the drought seemed to dry up some of the fruit. It seems that in many parts it is practically the most common plant since deer do not prefer its spiny leaves. It produces a tart red fruit in late April and May that makes a beautiful red tasty jelly, in addition to pies, and drinks. Some people use part unripe berries and part ripe berries to make the jelly without adding pectin. The big trick in making this jelly is picking and cleaning the fruit. Some people put old umbrellas under the bush and then hit the plant with sticks to make the berries fall. I use a large tarp, leather gloves, and a small plastic bag. I put down the tarp, put on the gloves, then pull the berries off while holding the plastic bag. The bag adds extra protection for the gloves and my hands. I then strip each branch of the berries. Obviously this only works well if the bush is loaded with ripe or mostly ripe fruit because everything comes onto the tarp, including insects, sticks and leaves. You will then spend time sorting out the insects, sticks, and leaves. You will need to rinse the berries several times to get out the small debris. Some people cook the berries with much of the debris but I don’t care to do that. With about 2 quarts of berries you will need to add enough water to cover all the fruit. Let it boil until the berries have absorbed the water. I then use my trusty potato masher to mash up the berries. I then place small amounts at a time into my food mill and crush the berries. The resulting liquid and pulp I pour into my cheese cloth/sieve. The result is 4 four cups of liquid.


4 cups agarita juice

3 cups sugar

1 box of No-Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin

Boil juice, adding the sugar. When it is back to a boil stir in the pectin. Bring to a full boil for a minute. Cool and pour into freezer containers. Freeze the jelly until you want to serve it.

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15 Responses to Agarita Jelly Recipe

  1. Hey, just ran into your website from digg. This isn’t not an article I would typically read, but I loved your perspective on it. Thank you for making an article worth reading!

  2. Harriett says:

    I saw a lot of this growing downtown around the river walk in San Antonio. Didn’t have the gumption to picky except one berry to taste-very tart but tasty. I can see how this would make good jelly.

  3. Angie says:

    I made agarita jelly last year, but my agarita bushes this year did not have any berries.
    When i did it last year, cleaning and de-stemming took FOREVER. I found 1 recipe that de-stemmed, and one that did not.
    What did you do? Do you think all the time spent pulling the stems off is worth it?

    Also, i canned about half jelly, and the other half i canned as simply agarita juice. This year i wasn’t even going to do the jelly, because the juice is wooooooooonderful. Add a couple tablespoons to a margarita, and it is the ultimate. Next year i will be monitoring much more closely, and spending alot of time looking at everyone else’s bushes if mine don’t have any again.

    • This year was a tough year for Agarita due to the drought. I had to scout far and wide to find any even though they flowered profusely in the spring. I saw lots of immature fruit withering on the plants early on. Yes, removing the debris takes awhile and is sometimes painful if you get stuck by the leaves. I was pretty amazed to see that one gentleman on the web used his back end loader to remove the fruit. I have never had that much fruit nor would I have space for that much jelly. I use my gloves and a plastic bag when pulling off the fruit. Most of the stems come off at this time but I get a lot of debris. I simply sat my pail down in front of me while watching television and removed leaves, stems, and other unidentified objects. I have also read about people who put everything into the pot and then caught the leaves etc. in their cheese cloth. I just am not comfortable doing it that way though I am glad it works for some folks. Yes, the juice is pretty good. I also get excited about the juice from the prickly pear. It is such a pretty color that it makes anything you add it to look so appealing. I added cactus juice to a papaya smoothy yesterday and it changed the color from orange to a fire engine red. I had so much cactus juice that I gave 10 cups of it away today just to make room for my next jellies in the freezer. I also have a surplus of Agarita juice but I am not giving that away. 🙂

  4. Harriett says:

    Can’t wait till April to make this jelly/juice. Sounds delicous.

    • Harriet-
      Now that you know what Agarita looks like you might want to start looking for another bush or two. Where there is one there usually is another. I noticed they built a clinic next door but down beyond that I would look for more bushes. You will need your gloves when you pick them. Also, keep an eye on your bush so you know when they are ripe. This year everything seems to be flowering (and thus fruiting) earlier. I noticed that the dewberries are already beginning to bloom in my best dewberry patch. Others won’t be far behind.
      Texas Jelly Maker

  5. lila says:

    We use a fan and shift the berries from one bucket to another I front of the fan the fan does the work of removing most leaves and stems this will not work on wet berries they must be dry do it right after u pick them, monitor your distance from the fan to get it to sift just right

    • Lilia-
      Lila-That is an excellent idea. I have used that process for separating bluebonnet seed from the pods and debris. I used large greenhouse fans to blow the debris. I will definitely try your method next year during agarita harvesting season.

  6. Morgan L says:

    Hi there!

    I made a small batch of Agarita jelly two weeks ago (loved it!). I just went back and got some more berries and it looks like that’s all I’m gonna get this year. I didn’t pick many because i wanted to leave plenty for the birds and wild critters. I thought it might taste good to combine the Agarita juice with Mustang grape juice (the grapes near me look like they will produce PLENTY this year). Can the Agarita juice be frozen and saved until the Mustang grapes are ripe and ready to be picked? Does the Agarita juice freeze well, do you know?

    • Welcome back Morgan. I am glad your agarita jelly turned out great. I have 2 batches of agarita juice in the freezer right now. Fruit juices freeze great. i have tried every kind of container, including zip lock bags but prefer to buy one size of freezer container so I most efficiently use the space in my freezer. I also do not freeze more than 4.5 cups of juice in one container. I freeze almost all my juices and then make the jelly when I am rested up or needing jelly or jam. Mulberry, loquat, strawberry, mesquite, mint, apple, and pear (among others) mix well with almost any fruit.
      All of my juices are currently being used for drinking rather than jelly making. I am mixing up a dewberry/mustang grape/apple juice mixture tonight all from my frozen juices.
      Let us know how your agarita/mustang grape jelly tastes. If is a success I will add it to my page with your name on it.

    • Morgan- I just tasted my latest juice concoction and it reminded me another motivation for freezing your juices for jellies. It gives you the option for mixing and matching flavors that are not ripe at the same time, such as cactus and agarita.

  7. Morgan L says:

    Thank you! That’s great info to know. I’ll juice this fruit today and let you know how the grape/agarita mix turns out. Of course I have a terrible sweet tooth so anything sweet tastes fine to me. I am, perhaps, not the best judge… Anyway thank you for all of your thoughtful, informative replies!

  8. Morgan L says:

    I made the Agarita/Mustang Grape mix and it was DELICIOUS! I didn’t have much of either the grapes or the Agarits so I got very little jelly, but it was sure worth it. The Agarita flavor leads and the mustang grapes have a strong finish in this mixture so its sort of like a Plum/Grape jelly. I had so little fruit that I had to fudge around with the amounts of sugar and pectin and it was pure luck that the jelly turned out at all (it was just the tiniest bit runny) so I wont post my actual recipe until maybe next year when I can get several reliable batches. Anyway, I’m off to harvest prickly pear tunas and Texas Persimmons this weekend (oh and buy a food mill, any suggestions?)

    • Am glad that the Agarita/Mustang Grape mix turned out good. I am surprised the agarita flavor won out. Speaking of plum/grape that sounded so good I decided to pick plums yesterday and mix it with mustang grapes. I picked many of the plums a little green so I am trying to ripen them up by putting them in a bag with a ripe apple. Sounds like you are keeping busy picking fruit and making jelly! Great!

  9. cathy says:

    Can the jelly be canned instead of frozen?

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