Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wild Grape Jelly is 50 Years in the Making

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.


Anonymous said...

Kylee: I could smell that grape jelly cooking! On early morning walks the smell of grapes is in the air and there is no better smell on earth...maybe some equal to that but no better!

Anonymous said...

My mouth was watering as I was reading your post! Hope it tastes as fantastic as it looks!

Nicola, Swansea, UK

Muum said...

looks wonderful. Grapes are a big deal in my Utah neighborhood, and so my 11 year old and I are going to pick some Concords and make juice. I was also offered some green seedless grapes, maybe we'll make white grape juice, too, if we get that far. I have decided I need help to do canning, and so I always make sure I have an assistant before I start. I'll let you know how it goes!

Earth Girl said...

I wondered if you ever picked the grapes. I made grape jelly this summer for the first time also and the recipes I read said that it sets better if you use half wild grapes because they are higher in natural pectin. I too asked my husband to pick up grape jelly-making supplies at the store, cheesecloth. He couldn't find it and asked one of the teenagers working there, who thought he was crazy. (He found it in the baking aisle finally.) It reminded me of the reaction of the teenage clerk at a nursery when I asked her if they had composted manure.

Carol Michel said...

Peanut butter jelly time! Peanut butter jelly time! Sounds delicious. I've been enjoying the grape jam I made for several weeks now. Didn't we both post about picking grapes on the same day, way back in August?? :-)

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Reginas Cottage said...

My mouth was watering as I was reading your post.I hope is very good
You have many flowers and grasses,
I have the same grasses Maiden Grass,
Fountain Grass,Lilyturf.

Connie said...

Kylee, Are you sure you didn't end up with Wild Grape WINE jelly, after having them in the frig so long? LOL!

Oma's House said...

I just found wild grapes in my yard. They are sour!! Are they suppose to be like that? They are purple, have seeds, and seem to be just ready to pick.

Kylee Baumle said...

Kay ~ I'm not sure where you live, but here in NW Ohio, these grapes weren't picked until mid-August. But yes, they are a bit tart. Not unpleasantly so, though. They made fabulous jelly though!

Macie said...

I tried making wild grape jelly this past summer and could not get the jelly to set. I followed the instruction on the pectin box for normal grapes. Afterwards, when it was apparent it was too thin, I followed the instructions to reheat the mixture and try again.... It still didn't set. I used to make grape jelly from normal grapes with my Grandma when I was little, and we never had this problem. I'll have to try this online version of the recipe next time. Did your jelly set for you the first time around, or did you have problems with this too?

Kylee Baumle said...

Macie ~ I expected to have some trouble with it setting, but I didn't. You know how jelly that you buy is more Jell-O like in its consistency? This isn't like that, which is actually a good thing. This was more like a thicker, stickier apple butter, which was perfect. It spreads better that way.

Try again. Maybe it was just some sort of fluky thing that happened!

troutay said...

Just picked tons of grapes yesterday. My hands and nails are a tad blue but I found some gloves after it was too late. I will be making the jelly today after work and am pleased you have posted a receipe!


Betsy said...

I came across this while searching for a recipe for wild grape jelly. It made me smile to read that your grapes sat in the fridge for 6 weeks. I just took mine out after about 7, expecting I'd procrastinated too long. No, they were for the most part still good! I guess they store well.

Unknown said...

I loved your post and am following you. I have grapes that grow every summer (concord) and I feel guilty I've never done anything with them in 12 years. Now I know what I'm gonna do!

Come visit me! weekdaychef.blogspot.com and

Sheryl at Providence North said...

I just found wild grapes growing here, for the first time too! I'm searching for a wild grape jelly recipe and found your post! Great pictures and instructions!

Great site!

Anonymous said...

Where is the exact recipe, please? I have a bunch of these wild grapes in my backyard and would love to try this jelly!

Kylee Baumle said...

Anonymous ~ Here's a link to the repost I did later, with the recipe:


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