I 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 moved and so 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 preserves 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.
I still had more juice, so the next day, I made an old-fashioned grape marmalade—a thick type of grape preserves. 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.