The Grape Escape

IMG_6694I have to admit that I feel like I have finally escaped after processing about 20 pounds of grapes from my neighbor’s vines. My neighbors were not able to do the harvest themselves this year, and I asked if I could step in, having enjoyed some of their fabulous grape jam last year. With their permission, I harvested about 20 pounds of grapes, about half of the Swenson and Concord grapes they have on the vines.

Harvesting grapes is a snap. Take a scissors with you and just snip the bunches off the vines. Then, clean the grapes, and start processing. That’s where the work gets more cumbersome. I made three kinds of grape preserves with the fruit. The first is a recipe taken from Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet for grape conserve. To make it, you have to skin the grapes, which sounds difficult, but actually involves only a tiny squeeze on the grape so the innards pop out.  However, it takes a lot of grapes to make even a few jars of conserve and, as Brody notes in her recipe, it’s a lot more fun with a group of people. My 17-year-old helped for awhile, but mostly I soldiered on through the grapes alone.

After that, I still had buckets of grapes left, so I cleaned what I had and dumped all the grapes in a big pot to loosen the skins and seeds. After about 15 minutes of cooking, I ran the mixture through a food mill and ended up with a thick, tart grape juice. (And, a pile of seeds and gunk, which went into the compost pile.) The next day, I took some of the juice, strained it again, and used 5 cups of juice for a traditional jelly recipe. The recipe is in any box of Sure-Jell pectin. While it’s a pretty sugary jelly, the fresh, tart grapes give it a bite that you don’t get from store-bought jelly.

The Final Product
The Final Product

I still had more juice, so the next day, I made an old-fashioned grape marmalade. This is a variation on a recipe I found on the web from an old — like 1800s — cookbook. I took 6 cups thick grape juice, 3 oranges (zested, peeled, and chopped), 3 cups of stewed apples (I’d recommend local Haralson apples microwaved about 5 minutes with some apple cider or water), and one cinnamon stick.  Bring this mixture to a boil and add 1.75 pounds of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and let it cook for a good half hour — maybe more. While it’s cooking, bring the hot water bath to a boil and clean and sterilize your canning jars and tops. (For instructions on canning, see the U of M’s site.) Then, remove the cinnamon stick, and pour the marmalade in the jars. I processed the jars 10 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal them up, though the original recipe recommends that cooks put paper over the jam and it will “keep for years.” I’m a little doubtful these grape delights will last that long here.

6 Replies to “The Grape Escape”

  1. Wow, Mary, what a whirlwind of grapey activity! I feel tired just reading about it,… and readers don’t have to do the clean-up.

  2. The clean up wasn’t that bad since I spread the work out over three days. Unfortunately, I decided to go all sensual and crush the grapes with my hands, which was fun but left me with purple fingernails! Those are finally fading. And, we won’t have to buy jelly for a year.

  3. We eat very little in the way of jelly or jam these days. What you just made would probably be a lifetime supply for us! Though I did buy a jar of peach butter from the apple orchard last weekend, while picking up a bag of Honey Crisps and some apple donuts, because it just sounded so darn good.

  4. Well done with the award! I look forward to my Northern Gardening magazine so much. When it arrives, it really makes my day!

    RE Zonker: I’ve followed Doonesbury since my college days… a long time ago. Zonker has always been into flowers – he talks to them and they talk back. During the Carter administration there was an ongoing bit from the head tulip from the White House lawn.

    Lillith

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