For most southern African children in the 1970s, the marula fruit gained legendary status after we watched how it intoxicated wild animals in Jamie Uys‘s film, Beautiful People. The scene, remembered by most of us with abandoned delight, caused controversy among zoologists and biologists because “animals flock, fly, or run to ripe marulas to take part in the gorging, leaving few fruits lying around long enough to ferment.” In other words it’s impossible for wild animals to get drunk on marulas. I read this in an article in National Geographic, but thought the following clip from the movie was too priceless not to share.
What is fact about the marula tree is the significance it holds among the indigenous people of southern Africa. It is known as the Sacred Tree, the Elephant Tree, and the Marriage Tree, among others, and its nut is used as a Sangoma’s Dice. I’ve read that the Tonga people — the tribe that lives along the banks of the Zambezi River near our farm — call marula the “food of kings,” and celebrate the “Feast of First Fruits” by pouring offerings of fresh juice over the tombs of dead chiefs.
The marula tree is bountiful, and should be celebrated. The fruit is sweet, with a hint of mango about it, and is collected by the sackful in these parts to be turned into juice, or eaten fresh. I was reminded of them last year by a follower, Gillian Thornton, who told me a story about how, when she was young, her mother was making marula jelly but left it a little too long bubbling on the stove: “It had become toffee, so she poured it into baking trays. I was the most popular child in school because of my marula toffee and my mom had parents calling her all the following day asking for the marula toffee recipe.” I told Gillian then her story had inspired me, and that when it was time for the Feast of First Fruits I would try and make marula jelly.
We’re at the end of the marula season now, and I made the jelly using a similar method to the way I made guava jelly. The two fruits resemble each other, both in the way they look and the way they are packed with pectin when fresh. I boiled the marulas first in water, and then let them hang in mutton cloth overnight. The next day I added sugar and lemon juice to the marula liquid, brought it the boil for about an hour, and that was it. It turned into jelly. Just like that.
Amarula Cream, the internationally-recognized liqueur, is made out of marula fruit. I adapted Yotam Ottolenghi’s Dark Chocolate Mousse with Baileys & Mascarpone Cream for last year’s Christmas lunch, exchanging the Baileys Cream for Amarula Cream. It gave this masterful dessert some African je ne sais quoi and was really delicious.
- 2 1/2 liters/ 13 cups of marula juice
- 11 cups granulated sugar
- 4 medium lemons, juiced
- Scrub the marula fruit well, score, and then fill two large heavy-based pots three-quarters full (as illustrated above). Just cover with water and boil until they soften, about 1 hour.
- Remove from the heat, cool slightly, and transfer the marula fruit into a jelly bag, or as we used, some mutton cloth fashioned into a sack. Set over a large bowl to catch the liquid dripping from the fruit. Leave for a minimum of three hours, or preferably overnight.
- Sterilize the jelly jars. Wash in warm soapy water, dry, and then place on a baking tray in a hot oven (180/350 degrees) for 10 minutes. Put the lids in a bowl filled with boiling water for the same time, and then dry before using. Put a small saucer into the freezer for testing your jelly when cooked.
- Strain the marula liquid through a fine-meshed sieve and transfer to a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the sugar and lemon juice and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has completely melted. Turn the heat up and continue stirring from time to time until the syrup starts to thicken. If the syrup bubbles up to overflowing, turn down the heat a little. Skim off any white scum during the boiling process.
- Continue boiling until the syrup coats the back of your stirring spoon, about an hour. Turn off the heat, remove the saucer from the freezer, and test to see if a spoonful will jell on the cold plate. If the jelly crinkles up when pushed with a finger, it is ready. (Be careful not to overdo this stage because you’ll turn your jelly into toffee.)
- Take the hot jars out of the oven. Cool them slightly, and then ladle the jelly into each jar. Seal, ensuring the lid is capped tightly. Cool to room temperature and store away from sunlight, or in the refrigerator once a jar is opened. The jelly should last for months when refrigerated.
Yield: 3 x medium-sized Consol jars, as illustrated below.
Note: A preserving tip from the Kenya Settlers’ Cookery Book – To prevent jam or jelly turning moldy on top, cover with a piece of paper soaked in brandy, white of egg or clear mutton fat, before screwing on the lid.