When you can’t make Wine, Make Grape Jelly!

When life gives you grapes.... Grape Jelly it is! Over Thanks-Giving weekend I was home for a few days and I was so surprised and happy to see the crazy amount of grapes that lined the fence. They are so perky and purple and the heat from the warm weather we've been having helped spread the smell of grapes through the air!

We've been told that these grapes, unfortunately would not be wine making grapes... This is possibly one of the biggest travesties our family has encountered since my sister jammed our 1990 Bonneville between two trees backing up in our driveway - she was unharmed of course.. the car alas, was not. (But that was years ago now so I suppose we were due)

Things are busy around my parent's house at this time of year so they were more then happy to have someone do something with the huge amount of rapidly ripening raisins along the South facing fence. I can understand why my parents were a bit reluctant to pick the grapes... it's not a short and sweet process to actually do something with them, and in the end I learned that making grape jelly takes a bit of patience as you have to sit and wait. I call it Wait Jelly. All in all my parents donated four baskets of green and purple grapes to the Great Grape Jelly Escapade of 2011 which equated to about 19 cups of grape juice. (!!!)

Here's what I did with them:

Grape Jelly - Concord Grapes

1. Separate the grapes from stems, stick ‘em in a pot, and mash them. Seeds and small nubs from the grape stems are ok as everything will be filtered out at the next step.

2. Cover and bring grape mash to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Keep stirring and mashing throughout. Don’t over boil as this affects the pectin and the taste in some way (how I’m not sure), so just keep an eye on it and reduce the heat to a simmer-level quickly. Simmer for 10-15 minutes while stirring and mashing frequently.

3. When cool, fashion a cheese cloth filter. This can be accomplished two ways:

  • Make a “cheesecloth hammock”: Over-turn a 4 leg stool. Cut and fold two pieces of cheesecloth so that it can be draped nicely between the 4 legs of the stool. Wet and ring out the cheesecloth and secure the four corners to the overturned stool with rubber bands. Place a big bowl to catch the drippings underneath. When set up and ready to go, ladle the hot grape mixture into the cheese cloth. When the entire contents of the pot are in the cheesecloth hammock, let it sit and drip for 3-4 hours. Note: Don’t push the mixture through the cheesecloth or ring the mixture out as this affects the taste of the final product.
  • OR you can use a colander and a big bowl (not pictured here). Line the colander with cheesecloth which has been wet and rung out. Place the mash into the lined colander and let drip into the bowl for a few hours. Don’t ring the cheese cloth out and don’t push the mix through the cheesecloth with a spoon (see note above!)

4. When you have the bowls full of the filtered mixture, put it into the fridge overnight. This step will allow sediment to settle at the bottom of the bowl.

5. Spoon the liquid (being careful not to disturb the sediment) into a stove top pan.

6. Next boil the separated liquid with Sugar. Add one cup of sugar to one cup of grape juice. It sounds ridiculous I know, but that's the ratio that brings out the jelly, my friends. Note: I was unprepared for the amount of sugar I would need and I ended up having to make a trip to the grocery store... only to find that they were... OUT OF SUGAR. Blasted. In the end I found a different store clerk who went to get some from the back shipment, but, phew, that was a close one. I certainly didn't want to have to ask my neighbours... at 10:30 pm on a weeknight.

7. This is the "jellying stage" - you will reach a point after you bring the liquid to a boil, where the mixture will be "jelly ready." In other words, it won't be jellied in the pot "persay", but it will give you some hints that it's ready to be place in jars. (See this post on canning to learn about sterilizing the jars - it's really important to note that the is a very specific process in preparing the jars and "water bathing" them so that the canning process is sterile. Also I follow all the rules for proper canning in "Joy of Canning" to make sure I get it right).

Tips to tell if it is ready to "jelly":

a) You can put a cooler spoon into the mixture and if the juice drips off in two separate places as opposed to one stream, it will be almost ready. b) Place a stainless steel bowl in the freezer - when it is chilled, put a drop of the hot juice in the middle. Place it back in the freezer for 3 minutes. Take it out and run your finger through it - if it separates and stays separated, but slowly starts to go back together, it will be ready. Note: When you are doing this - take the boiling liquid off the burner; it won't hurt the process and it's better than over cooking the jelly.

I used a mixture of these two steps. When it started to look like it was thickening on the spoon, I removed it from the heat, and used the bowl test method.

8. Place the liquid into hot, sterilized jars. Boil in a water bath for 5-10 minutes.

I also purchased this book and it is a dream reference when it comes to all things canning!!