A few years ago my husband planted four wine grape vines to trellis up around our deck and onto the side of our house. He bought St. Croix, the most cold-hardy red wine grape he could find. The vines have been vigorous and have created a beautiful bower of greenery, filled this time of year with abundant clusters of small purple grapes about the size of large blackberries. The vines are a great source of grape leaves for my dolmades fixation, but the wine has been horrible. Granted, we don’t know a lot about making wine, but the wine we made was beyond appalling. Michael put it best when he said, “It tastes like wine after you have thrown it up.”
This year we are going to try making wine again using the method one of his coworkers advised, which is to crush up the grapes and let them ferment without any additional help from additives and test kits. But I decided to do a preemptive grape strike in case the wine is a total flop again and took five pounds of grapes to make grape jelly.
You can make grape jelly from purchased grape juice, but it is much more satisfying to forage feral grapes from some place in your neighborhood and preserve them as a year’s supply of jelly. Most locally grown grapes in upstate New York are wine grapes or Concord grapes that aren’t that great for eating, so you have nothing to lose. In Saratoga Springs where I live, you can find “wild” grapes growing along roadsides, tracksides and woodsides; remnants of a bygone era when the town was mostly peopled by Italian immigrants. There are some awesome grape vines by the farmer’s market and some near the nursing home. Look around- they are out there.
A note about technique. The kind of cheese cloth you can buy in most stores is too coarsely woven to be good for juice straining. Every cook should have a length of butter muslin to use instead of the crap they sell as cheese cloth in the stores. It can be washed by hand, sterilized in boiling water, and reused again and again. I have used one piece of butter muslin for at least ten years without problem. I use it to make cheese and tofu, now grape juice. Order some and get extra for your best friend. It makes a truly useful gift.
RECIPE: Grape Jelly
Yields 15, 6-ounce jelly jars
- 5 pounds grapes
- 1¼ cups water
- One pack pectin
- 12 cups sugar
1. Make grape juice – Remove the grapes from their stems. Wash them well. Add them to a large pot with 1¼ cups of water. Bring them to a boil, stirring continuously, then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for ten minutes. Cooking grapes to make juice
2. Strain the juice – Line a large colander with butter muslin and place it over a deep pot. Strain the cooked grapes through the butter muslin and press the grapes down with a small pot, potato masher or other object to get all the juice out. Twist the cloth by hand at the end to get every last drop of juice.
3. Sterilize the jars- Scald fifteen six-ounce jelly jars in boiling water and place them up side down on a clean tea towel. Scald 15 canning rings, a ladle and a canning funnel, turn off the stove and place 15 canning lids in the hot, but not quite boiling, water to sterilize them. If you boil the lids, they can lose their gluey-ness.
4. Cook the jelly- Put the strained grape juice into a large pot, add one package of pectin and stir to mix. Bring to full boil and stir continuously, boiling for one minute. Then add all the sugar at once, keep stirring, bring back to boil and boil for one full minute. Remove from heat and pack into hot sterile jars.
5. Fill the jars – Place one jar at a time upright next to your pot of hot liquid jelly. Fill each jar with hot jelly up to about ¾ inch from the top, then place a sterile lid on the jar and lightly screw on a canning ring. Do not screw the ring down all the way, because you want to leave room for the jar to vent in the hot water bath.
6. Process- Place the jars in a boiling water bath and process for ten minutes. Remove and cool at room temperature. Make sure the lids seal. If they don’t, place the jar in the refrigerator and use it right away.
7. Eat with pleasure through out the long cold winter months.