Hackberry trees have a bad reputation in Texas mostly because they grow really well and they are everywhere. Since they are fast-growing, they are also fast-dying which means that they easily drop limbs (on cars and houses, unfortunately) and topple over in storms. Birds also love to eat the berries. When the birds finally poop out the seeds, they are usually sitting on fencelines which means that hackberry trees tend to take over our fences as well. I often hear people talk about hackberries and trash trees in the same sentence. Even my husband Chris, a die-hard naturalist, wants to cut the one in our backyard down. Boooo.
I love hackberry trees. For one thing, their bark is gorgeous; its deep ridges and knotty texture really stands out in a native landscape. And they provide fabulous shade and an abundance of leaves for mulch in the fall. One of my favorite things about the hackberry tree is the berries – they’re edible and super easy to find. Even though they are small, you can easily collect a couple of cups of berries off of one tree. They turn a deep, dark red color when ripe and they are hard, like little tiny jaw-breakers. Now is a good time to collect the ripe berries. You can nibble on them raw by gnawing and sucking the skin and pulp off around the large seed. Once you spit the seed out of your mouth, take some time to wonder about the taste – it’s unique. Chris thinks it tastes like sweet tea. I recently made a hackberry jam to spread over acorn biscuits and venison — Yum!
How to Make Amy’s Hackberry Jam
1. Wash the berries, remove the stems and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover the berries. It’s a good idea to start out with at least 1 c of berries. One cup of berries will eventually yield about 1/2 c of jam. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Once the skin has softened a bit, you can use a masher to begin removing the skin and pulp from the seed.
2. Pour the water and berries through a sieve or strainer into another saucepan to strain out the seeds. Push as much of the pulp through the strainer as possible using a wooden spoon. At this point, you might realize that a lot of the pulp and skin is still on the strainer. Take about 1/4 c of the hackberry water in the saucepan and pour it back through the strainer to wash extra pulp into the saucepan. You can also pour another 1/4 c or so of water through the strainer into the saucepan.I also pulled a lot of the skin pieces off the seeds and threw them into the saucepan. This added some flavor and texture to the finished jam.
3. Add 1/4 c sugar (for 1 c of hackberries) and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to the saucepan and boil. Then simmer and stir the liquid until it thickens – about 15-25 minutes.
4. Pour the thickened jam into a bowl or jar and serve with biscuits, crackers or meat.