Saturday, September 3, 2011

Making Grape Jelly

It's that time of year again and I'm in the kitchen, making grape jelly. I've only done this one time before. It was in 2007, when we discovered wild grapes growing along Cunningham's Ditch behind our house. But we have our own grape vines now - six of them, all seedless varieties. There's Himrod, Reliance, and Mars, with the purple Mars being the biggest producer of the three.

One of the most popular of all my blog posts over the years has been the one where I explained how I made the grape jelly, so since it's once again grape jelly time, I'm republishing that post. It was this experience that led to us growing our own grapes and now the jelly will be from those grapes. By the way, ours are seedless, making things a little bit easier for this go-round.

Previously published on Our Little Acre on 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.

Wild Grape Jelly

3 lbs. wild grapes, stemmed
3 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 (85 ml) package liquid pectin

In large saucepan, crush grapes with potato masher; pour in water and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until fruit is very soft. Transfer to jelly bag or colander lined with a double thickness of fine cheesecloth and let drip overnight.

Measure juice (you should have 3 cups/750 ml) into a large heavy saucepan; stir in sugar. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to full boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and skim off foam with a metal spoon. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/8 inch headspace.

Oops! I forgot a step...



Bridget said...

Our grapes are just ripe so I will try this. Thanks for sharing it.

Canarella said...

so glad i found your post I to found grapes and will use this to make my jelly ...

Steve Hammel said...

You don't need to stem those wild grapes. Just rinse everything, and crush the grapes. Lucy McGillicuddy crushed grapes with her feet, but you can use a cone-shaped strainer like I used to use when canning tomato juice. They used to have those strainers at both Finan's and at Crain's, but they both sold out decades ago, and I don't know where you'd find one these days. Maybe the tractor store? All you're using is the juice.

The amount of sugar to use will vary according to how sweet the grapes are. And when I had a source of wild grapes, I also had a June Transparent growing right outside the kitchen window. There was a LOT of pectin in those June Transparents and consequently, my recipe was "wild grape juice, June transparent juice, sugar to taste. Boil, put in hot scalded mason jars, add sufficient molten paraffin to form a seal." Worked every time.

CommonWeeder said...

We have wild grapes, and a local pectin company, Pomona Universal Pectin, that makes it easy to make low sugar jams, and use any one of a number of sweeteners including honey and stevia. It's a great product.

Kaytie @ GardenKitchenHome said...

I just made jelly two weeks ago with a bunch of girlfriends. Good times! Thanks for sharing the recipe :)

Sarah "The Engine" Tingen said...

Great addition Steve, thanks

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