Sunday, October 21, 2007


As with many firsts, the first post always seems to be a bit awkward. This will prove to be no exception. So I'll just say: Welcome to the newest of my blog projects, one in which I post things we cook and eat together in our family. I hope you can comment and post some of your favorite recipes and foods, too!

Starting out with a harvest recipe: Wild Grape Jelly

What better way to start the fall than with a little wild harvest in the neighborhood? Where we live, there are wild grapes growing along the streets. When we moved here, a neighbor told me about her grape harvest every fall, and insisted that they were easy to find. So for several years, I looked for them as I walked around the streets near our house. No luck.
Finally, one day in August this year, I lifted the leaves of what looked to be a grape vine and--ta da! There they were--bunches and bunches of fat, green grapes. And once we found one vine, it seemed they were everywhere we looked. Can it be that I missed them for all these years?

As for the taste--well, they were sour as could be in August, but by mid September, they had ripened, and on our evening walks, the air was heavy with the smell of them. Our daughter thought it smelled like grape gum--and it was that intense. But they weren't really sweet. Instead, they had a concentrated tart flavor. After some research on the web, I figured we had mustang grapes--good for cooking, but not for eating. Sometime shortly after Labor day, we picked close to 4 lbs of the darkest grapes. Time to make jelly!

I prowled around online to find a good recipe, and found one in particular that seemed to work. Here's the link for it. Of course, being a recipe-tinkerer, I changed it. Here's the play-by-play of what I did, and the recipe itself.Bear with me. This is a long recipe, with lots of steps. But very worth it!:

What I needed:
2.5 lbs grapes, sorted, washed, and cut into bits
2.5 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 package liquid pectin

I'm also a fan of "mise en place," so I set up the following before I started:
a strainer, lined with triple cheesecloth and set over a large glass bowl
the canning pot (we have a huge one that has a rack in the bottom to remove the jars and keep them from direct contact with the pot itself, so the jars don't crack)
the jelly jars, sterilized by running through the dishwasher. This recipe made enough for three 8 oz jars, and three 4 oz jars.
the jelly jar lids, washed by hand and set into a small pot of water (to be used for canning)
a big rubber-lined tongs to use to get the hot jars out of (and back into) the canning bath

Note: The only thing you really need to set up before you start boiling the grapes is the strainer/bowl. The rest you can set up just before canning the next day.

What I did:
1. Prepare the grapes. After I gave the grapes a good washing, I realized we also had to inspect each of these little guys for parasites--flies or something equally gross that had decided to set up house. So, that night after everyone was asleep, I stayed up and cleaned each grape and cut each one open. This must have been a good year for the bugs, because once I was done, there were only 2 pounds of so of uninfested grapes.

2. Boil them. I put the prepared grapes into a pot with the water, and boiled them down for about 5 minutes, mashing the grapes up a bit as they cooked. Then I simmered the mixture for 15 minutes or so.

3. Strain the grapes. I let the mixture cool off the stove for 15 minutes, then poured the whole thing into the strainer lined with cheesecloth. Because I was making jelly, I did not squish this mixture at all, but let the mush drain passively into the bowl. This was to ensure the juice stayed clear. I left it alone overnight.

In the morning, the juice had drained nicely. What was left was slurry, with seeds, skins, etc, which I tossed. It looked like this:

The juice was beautiful. I came away with about 3 cups of very tart, very purple juice. If you want to just make juice to drink, you could just add sugar and water to this base. I'm pretty sure this is how they make the juice you'd buy at a store. We made a few glasses like this to go with breakfast. Yum. Here's what it looked like:

But if you want to make jelly, you need to do a few more steps. First, more "mise en place." Canning is mostly prep, you know.
I set up the jars by boiling them for 10 minutes in the big canning pot. To keep them ready for the hot mixture, I let them sit in the hot water.
I also boiled the jar lids in yet another small pot, and got a tongs ready to grab them when I needed them. The lids, like the jars, sat in the hot water waiting. The stove was getting crowded!
Finally, I laid out a thick dishtowel on the counter as a place to set the hot jars.

Then I started the cooking. Here are the steps for that:
1: Boil juice and sugar.I put the juice back into a large, heavy saucepan, added the 5 cups of sugar, and stirred until it was dissolved. I boiled it to a full boil, which means that it was bubbling like crazy even while I stirred.
2. Add the pectin. After the mixture reached foil boil, I took it off the heat, quickly poured in the pectin, and brought it back to a full boil, where I boiled it for one whole minute.
3. Take the mixture off the stove and set it aside for about 3 minutes while you do the next step.
4. Quick--get the jars ready. I had to do this by myself, but if you have someone working with you, this could be done while you are cooking the sugar and grapes together. To get the jars ready, I took them out of the water bath (using the rubber tongs!), dried them quickly (wearing rubber gloves and using another thick dishtowel) and set them up on the folded towel on the counter.
5. Go back to your grape mixture, and skim any foam off the top with a metal spoon.

6. Then ladle the clear juice mixture into the jars. I still had some foam on the top of my mixture after it was in a few of the jars, so I carefully took that off with a spoon then.
7. Wipe the rims of the jars with a dry cloth to make sure you will get a good seal with the lids. You want the rims to be perfectly clean and dry where they contact the rubber part of the lids.
8. Take the lids from their hot bath in the little saucepan, dry the rubber part of the lids, and set the lids on the jars. Then take the rings from the water, dry them, and quickly put them gently onto the lids. Twist only a turn or two. Don't tighten too much!
9. Put the jars, right side up, into the big canning bath, and cover them with the hottest water you can add. Make sure you have at least 2 inches of water above the highest jar. Bring the pot to a boil, and boil it for 10 minutes.

10. Take the jars out (use the rubber tongs and hot mitts!). Set them on the thick towel, and don't touch them for 24 hours while they set up. You should hear them "pop" as they each seal. You'll see the slight indent on the top of each lid when they do. Ours "popped" about 5 minutes after we set the lids on the jars. The 24-hour waiting period is for the seal to catch and the jelly to gel.
11. 24 hours later, check the lids on your jars. If you can pull a bit at the lid without a ring and it doesn't budge, you have a good seal. If not, you could reprocess the jar, or you could just use that jar right away (which is what I did with our faulty one).
112. Tighten the rings on the jars with good seals. You're done! Whew! That was a LONG recipe. But the jelly was delicious.