Nearly every region of the United States has some kind of native berry: huckleberries in the Northwest, dewberries and mulberries in the South, chokeberries in the East, and cranberries in the swamps and bogs of the Northeast. After Massachusetts farming cooperative Ocean Spray invented the tin can-packed jellied cranberry log in 1941, cranberry sauce became the de facto accompaniment to American Thanksgiving dinners—the first of which, might have happened in Texas well before the Pilgrims arrived.
But it’s not the only option. Several jam and jelly makers across the state have other ideas about what to serve this holiday season.
Ruth Jones sells Caribbean-themed preserves through her company, Sunshine’s Special Jellies, based in Marshall. Her hobby began five years ago when her mother-in-law gave her a jar of peach preserves that reminded her of the pineapple jelly she grew up eating when visiting her family in Guyana, Grenada, and Trinidad.
The Houston native, who spent her career in education, loved the preserves so much she decided to recreate the recipe herself. After hours of research and trial and error, she figured out how to make a basic peach preserve; then, she started adding the flavors of her childhood. Friends and family soon began asking if they could buy jars of her jellies and she couldn’t keep up with demand. After moving to her husband’s hometown of Marshall, she became known for her jellies. “During the pandemic, I had people drive all the way from Shreveport to meet me in the gas station parking lot,” Jones says.
Jones sold jellies mostly through the local farmers markets in East Texas, but now she’s building a manufacturing facility to increase production of her 38 kinds of preserves made from both local and international fruits, including mango, papaya, guava, soursop, and locally harvested muscadine grapes. She currently ships across Texas and delivers within a 40-mile radius of Marshall.
Although many people serve the jellies on toast, she recommends using them as a glaze for meat or seafood, or as a sweetener for desserts, like bread pudding. For Thanksgiving, she suggests one called Watermelon What, which has the texture of cranberry sauce, or the Wild Persimmon Kiss, which she bakes into a sweet potato pie with a graham cracker crust.
“This is a way for me to celebrate and express my Caribbean heritage, but it’s how I can connect with people from all over the world who tell me these jellies remind them of their home,” she says.
In McGregor near Waco, another cottage jelly-maker has built up a following for her homemade preserves. Shnita Stack started Shnita’s Jellies and Jams with her homemade wild mustang grape jelly, which she used to make for her kids’ peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “We would harvest wild mustang grapes every summer, and it turned into this huge thing with our kids,” she says. With their encouragement, Stack started selling her jellies at a farmers market in Acton, southwest of Fort Worth, and nearly sold out of everything she brought.
Customers seeking liquor-infused jams led to her experimenting with recipes that included a splash of whiskey or rum. “That opened a whole new can of worms,” she says. “I don’t drink liquor, but if you looked in my cabinets, you’d think that’s all I drank.” Her bestselling product is a whiskey pecan peach jam that people often eat on ice cream.
At Thanksgiving her family enjoys a little spice with their turkey, so she breaks out the pineapple habañero jelly. She also sells a prickly pear jelly at local farmers markets and through Facebook.
Here are more jam and jelly makers with cranberry sauce options to try this Thanksgiving:
Confituras first sold their jams and jellies at Austin farmers markets more than a decade ago. Since opening a storefront in South Austin, they also sell biscuits and other breakfast goodies. Their jams and jellies remain a popular gift item, and you’ll find them around Austin at shops including Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars and in Blanco at Gillen’s Candies. For Thanksgiving, don’t skip the Tipsy Pecan Sauce or the cranberry jalapeño jelly.
Baking with Cranberries
If you’ve been wanting to learn how to bake with cranberries, Fischer & Wieser’s pastry expert, Keidel Hughes, is hosting a baking class on Dec. 2 to show guests how to make a rosemary-infused custard tart with poached cranberries.
Location: Fischer & Wieser Culinary
1406 S. US 87
Hours: 5 to 7 p.m.
This specialty food company in Fredericksburg has been making jams and jellies since it started as a roadside stand in 1969. It offers several cranberry preserves, including one spiked with bourbon that’s a popular addition to charcuterie boards. There’s also a limited-edition pecan cranberry relish with traditional cranberries, Texas’ favorite native nut, and a hint of orange. For a totally different take on a leftover turkey sandwich, try their Seville orange cranberry sauce, which is more orange than cranberry.
Jellies from Meier Ranch Foods, which has been making jams, jellies, salsas, and sauces since 1994, can be found at The Peach Basket in Fredericksburg and Sunrise Antique Mall in Kerrville. They are one of the few companies to make mayhaw jelly using the crabapple-like berries found in the Big Thicket.
This farm has been making jams and jellies since 1979. Last year, brother-and-sister team of Lou and Laurel Waters bought the business and moved it from the Dripping Springs area to Utopia, where Laurel owns a reservation-only restaurant called The Laurel Tree and the bed and breakfast Treehouse Utopia. New Canaan Farms is now based in an old water plant, where the Waters continue to make specialty jams, salsas, and sauces, including a cranberry pepper relish. They are available online and at Main Street Utopia, an antique store open to the public.
At the King Ranch Saddle Shop, which has stores in Austin, Frisco, College Station, Fort Worth, Houston, and the flagship location in Kingsville, you’ll find a bright red jelly made from agarita, a shrub with green holly-shaped leaves whose tangy fruit are one of Texas’ native berries.
This pick-your-own pecan farm with a storefront outside the Hill Country town of San Saba might be best known for its pecan-pie-in-a-jar filling. But the cranberry chili pecan preserve is a tangy, sweet, and slightly spicy preserve that goes perfect with turkey sandwiches, toast, or cream cheese.
In San Antonio, Brushfire Farms founder James Vives uses a family recipe to make about half a dozen jams, syrups, and glazes, most of which have a kick of heat from peppers including chile pequin, which grow wild throughout Texas, and Peru’s famed aji pepper. For Thanksgiving, add a spoonful of Brushfire’s prickly pear pepper jam next to your ham or turkey or pour a little of Vives’ prickly pear simple syrup into your Topo Chico. Brushfire sells their products online, at Central Market, and in small retailers like Tri County Meat Market and Wiatrek’s Meat Market in San Antonio.