The Feast of First Fruits & Marula Jelly

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.

Marula fruit, collected by villagers living near the Zambezi river.
Marula fruit, collected by villagers living near the Zambezi river.

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.

We cut incisions in the marula fruit to release its pectin and the flavor.
We cut incisions in the marula fruit to release its pectin and flavor.
Boiling the marula fruit before hanging them overnight.
Boiling the marulas before hanging them in mutton cloth.
Like we did with our guava crop, we hang the marulas overnight to release as much of the liquid as possible.
We hung the marulas overnight to release as much of the liquid as possible.
Marula Jelly: delicious with grilled meats, with soft cheeses, or warm toast and butter.
Marula jelly: delicious with grilled meats, soft cheeses, or just plain warm toast and butter.

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.

My version of Ottolenghi's Dark Chocolate Mousse with Baileys [Amarula] & Mascarpone Cream
My version of Ottolenghi’s Dark Chocolate Mousse with Amarula Cream.

Marula Jelly

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 liters/ 13 cups of marula juice
  • 11 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 medium lemons, juiced


Method:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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 BookTo 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. 

Marula Jelly.
Marula Jelly.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.

21 Comments

  • Wonderful, Annabel and I can almost smell the unique fragrance of the marulas. Your jelly looks delicious – all sumptuous and golden. We had mahobahobas on the farm which had a rougher skin, I think, than the marula. Not sure I’ve spelt that right, but perhaps you know the tree and fruit I’m talking about?

    Reply
    • Thank you, Zsa Zsa. The marula fragrance is so unique! Sadly the jelly didn’t seem to hold it, at least mine didn’t. I think I remember the mahobahoba fruit? Were they purple and very tart and dry to the taste? If not, I’ll start researching. They’ll have a different colloquial name here in Zambia. Thanks, as always, for your interest and support. xo

      Reply
      • The fruit of the mahobahoba was yellowy-orange, sometimes with brown speckles and quite waxy-rough to the touch. They used to ferment on the ground so you could smell them from a way off. Inside, the flesh was a sort of caramel colour if I remember and a very ripe flavour. I never liked them very much but think they were a taste I might have acquired with time. The locals loved them and collected them by the drum full!

        Reply
  • Hi again, Zsa Zsa … thank you so much for this. I spoke to Chris this morning, who informed me that the mahobohobo is the muzhanje (sp?) fruit! I know them well, and used to eat loads on the farm in Mvurwi. I was thinking the mahobohobo might be the waterberry, which is something completely different (and not nearly as tasty)!

    Reply
    • Yes, Chris is right! I had forgotten it’s real name – I wonder if the colloquial name by which I remember it is a reference to its prolific fruit production!

      Reply
      • I am sure it is! 🙂 We loved them when we were little! xo

        Reply
  • Fascinating! I am familiar with Amarula, as it’s imported and marketed here in the States by Louisville’s Brown-Forman Corp. When they first handled it a few years back, it was in our news day after day. I don’t know what I expected, but was surprised that the fruit looks so much like new potatoes!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Michelle. I’ve never thought of the fruit looking like new potatoes until you pointed it out. Ha! You’re right, although they are slightly yellower in color. Amarula is the largest commercial expression of the fruit, but I like the idea of ours coming from trees on and around the farm!

      Reply
  • Oh Annabel I’d forgotten all about marls.. I’ve never had the jelly. It looks so delicious and what a lovely colour.. Loved the video clip too. Thanks.

    Reply
  • Sorry my English was corrected…clearly my computer has never heard of marulas !

    Reply
    • Hi Hellie … lovely to hear from you again. Thank you for stopping by my blog … and for your kind comment. Marula Jelly is really, really good … best eaten with chicken liver pate, or lamb … or a yummy goat’s cheese, which we can’t get here very often. Lots of love to you … xo

      Reply
  • If only your Marula jelly could be sent over the internet for a smell and a taste. My mouth is watering looking at your lovely jars of jelly.
    If you have figs make some sweet and sour figs and then fig jelly.
    Last summer here (northern hemisphere) I made 70 jars of Sweet and Sour figs and 40 jars of jelly. A lot of hard hot work but worth the result and makes a great gift. The sweet and sour figs are best after a few months and even better after a year in the jars.

    Reply
    • Aha! The Marula Inspirer! Thank you for your kind comment … and yet more terrific suggestions about figs. We have a young tree in our garden that hasn’t produced fruit yet, but I watch it closely … egging it on! When (or if) it does start producing, you can be sure I will try what you suggest. Thanks for stopping by, and all the best to you … Annabel

      Reply
  • Oh my gosh! I always wondered what Amarula was made from, or if was just a name!!! I wish I could taste everything that you made with it, and this jelly. Great pictures!

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comment, chef mimi. Marulas have a very specific taste and smell … and are such a treat for all of us in these parts!

      Reply
  • Wonderful. Can I use cheesecloth for the jelly? How long does it keep in the fridge?

    Reply
    • Hello Wayfarer … thank you so much for taking the time to stop by my blog, and thank you, too, for your kind comment. Yes. You can use cheesecloth, which I would have done had I been able to buy it here. I used a material that was readily available on our farm in the African bush. If canned correctly, the jelly will last for at least a year stored away in a cool, dark place. Once opened, and if you refrigerate it, the jelly will last a few months … that’s if it isn’t eaten before that. It’s very good! Good luck in the making, and all the best to you … Annabel

      Reply
      • I love how we connected across such a distance, Annabel. =) What a lovely, easy recipe. Thanks!

        Diana

        Reply
  • It’s my pleasure. And that’s the beauty of blogging … it connects us all. I look forward to staying in touch! Annabel

    Reply
  • […] in Garlic OIive Oil, and Whole Preserved Kumquats. I have not included my Preserved Lemons or Marula Jelly, both of which I wrote about in earlier posts this […]

    Reply
  • […] many of the ingredients I forage from the wild are also much loved by elephants: mongongo nuts, marulas, wildsour plums, and muchingachinga fruit. I’ll be developing more and more recipes with […]

    Reply

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