It doesn't matter how old you are or how old you get, it's a big wide world out there and there will never be a shortage of new opportunities for learning. Ain't it great?
Earlier this year, Romie and I discovered wild grapes growing behind Our Little Acre, along Cunningham's Ditch. We'd lived here for 30 years and walked that path countless times, but until this summer we had no idea the grapes were there. I'd never even seen wild grapes growing before in my life and was thrilled with the find.
I returned to the treasure trove of vines hanging heavy with grape clusters and cut some. Those grapes were going to become jelly in my hands, though I'd never made that before either. I searched online for recipes for wild grape jelly and found some. They were all similar, but I chose one of the simplest. All I needed was grapes, water, sugar and pectin.
Pectin is a natural gelling agent found in terrestrial plants and is sold here under the Certo brand. It comes in powder form or liquid. Romie sometimes calls me while he's eating his lunch, so the next day as I was talking to him, I asked him to stop at the grocery before he came home and get some of that pectin stuff. He knows his way around the grocery store, but had no idea where to find the pectin. My guess would have been by the Jell-O, but I was wrong. It was with the spices.
The first thing I had to do was take all those tiny grapes off their stems. This job reminded me of shelling peas. It takes forever and a day of cleaning those before you get enough to feed two people one time. So now I had everything ready to go, but all that de-stemming wore me out. Okay, so it didn't, but I was sick of messing with grapes, so with blue hands, I put them back in the refrigerator until later.
Later turned out to be six weeks later. I'm not kidding. They don't call me The Queen of Procrastination for nothing. I don't know what was the impetus for deciding that last night was going to be when I finally made the jelly - maybe even I got sick of seeing them stare at me every time I opened the refrigerator door. Romie had long ago quit asking me when I was going to make it and I'm sure he thought it wasn't going to happen at all and the grapes were going to go the way of most cucumbers that I buy. (I don't even take cucumbers out of the plastic weighing bag I bring them home in. That way, they're easier to dispose of when they spoil.)
But ha! I did make the jelly. Last night. And it was easy! I weighed the grapes to see just how many I had and if I needed to adjust the recipe. I had a pound and three-quarters and the recipe called for three pounds, so before I started, I refigured how much I needed of everything else.
The recipe said to mash the grapes with a potato masher. I'd gotten one as a shower gift when I got married in 1975 and probably have used it just a handful of times. It's amazing that I even knew where to find it. My girls probably don't even know what a potato masher is. Actually, mine has "Pastry Blender" imprinted on it, because that's what it is, but it works for mashing potatoes, too. And crushing grapes.
Next step was to add water to the crushed grape mess, bring them to a boil, then cover and simmer for ten minutes.
Once that was done, I had to strain and drain them. I was supposed to use cheesecloth for this and I didn't have cheesecloth, but an old clean handkerchief worked very well. I let them drain through that, then I gathered the handkerchief up and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. The recipe said I could just let it drain through the cloth overnight, but I knew what could happen if I didn't finish the jelly now. You know, too.
I was really surprised at the amount of liquid I had when I got done with this part. Those grapes must have been really juicy, even after sitting in the refrigerator for over a month, because when I measured what I had, it very nearly was the amount needed to use the full amount of sugar and pectin that the recipe originally called for. That wasn't supposed to happen, but I wasn't complaining. It must be beginner's luck.
I added the sugar - a LOT of it - to the grape juice and brought it to a boil. Then I added the Certo liquid pectin and boiled it hard for one minute. It was really smelling good now and I was tempted to taste it but resisted. It reminded me of the black raspberry syrup on my sundaes I used to get at the Cow Cow Corner on US 127 just outside of Haviland when Romie and I were dating.
I skimmed off some of the foam that had formed on the top of the hot mixture, then started pouring it into the jelly jars. I ended up with nearly three pints of jelly! By the time I finished, it was almost midnight and Romie had long ago gone to bed because he has to get up pretty early for work. I would have liked to have seen the look on his face this morning when he saw those jelly jars lined up on the stove, cooling.
All that's left now is to see how it tastes. One of my favorite things is peanut butter, honey and jelly sandwiches and I'm going to go make one now. I'll get back to you later with a taste report and the recipe I used (if it's good), just in case you ever want to make wild grape jelly.
It only took me fifty years to get around to it.