Mustang Grape Jelly 2015

Mustang Grape Jelly 2015

Or How to Go from This …

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 pounds of grapes.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 pounds of grapes.

to That…

43 pints of mustang grape jelly.

43 pints of mustang grape jelly.

With Some Sort of Efficiency.

Three years ago we had a good year for wild grapes, and I made mustang grape jelly for the first time.  It turned out tart and fruity, not like commercial jellies that just taste like sugar, so it was very popular with friends and family. With all the rain we have had this year, we have a bumper crop.  And now that we know how delicious it is, and that good crops don’t come every year, we were determined to get as many as we could reach.  In three hours, we picked 70 -80 pounds.

My husband, the Intrepid Grape Picker, with the ladder he bought just for this crop.

My husband, the Intrepid Grape Picker, with the ladder he bought at auction with this crop in mind.

When I made the jelly last time,  I extracted the juice by putting all the grapes through a juicer, but that was very time-consuming, and also left a lot of sediment in the juice.  My dad told me that when he was little, his mom just cooked the whole clumps of grapes and then strained the juice, so this year I decided to try that.

It is still a lot of work, but it is so worth it!  So this post is an update on my technique, to walk you through the juice extraction, and then I will return you to my previous post on the actual jelly-making and canning.

Washing the Grapes

  •  three big bowls full of water
  • a bowl to hold the cleaned grapes.

Drop big handfuls of grapes into the first bowl.  Don’t crowd them, let there be plenty of water around them.  I washed two pounds (one kilogram) at a time.

As the dirt starts to float off the grapes, grab them and dunk them in the second bowl, then the third.  Do not drain the water off the grapes, or the dirt will stay on them; just keep moving them to a clean bowl and leave the dirt behind.  Don’t leave them to soak; you don’t want them in the water too long.  I pulled out all the leaf bits, and any sticks and pine needles, but left them all attached to their stems.

Put the grapes in the last (dry) bowl.  Then change the water in all the bowls for a fresh batch.

Extracting and Straining the Juice

  • stock pot, at least 8 quart size
  • measuring cup
  • old towels or newspapers to cover the counter
  • large pitcher
  • strainers
  • ladle
  • big bowls for grape pulp

Put about 4 pounds of grapes in the pot with 1 cup of water.  Heat until it comes to a simmer, simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the grapes start splitting.  Remove from heat and let settle for 20 minutes.  (The book I used for a resource, Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt, said to be sure not to let them boil or they will lose their flavor.  Some batches got away from me and boiled for a few minutes, and I don’t think it hurt their flavor at all.)

Do the first straining of the juice.  Set up a big pitcher with your choice of strainers.

Wire sieve strainer, colander-type strainer, coffee maker strainer.

Wire sieve strainer, colander-type strainer, coffee maker strainer.

Ladle the juice and pulp into the strainers. ( I like a small colander-type strainer, the middle one in the picture above, set into a wire sieve strainer — that way I can put one ladle-full into the colander strainer and press the pulp with the ladle, then easily dump the dry pulp into the big bowl to take out to the compost heap later.)

Don’t mash the grapes too hard  – it will just make the juice cloudy, and then it looks opaque and brownish in the finished jelly.  From 4 pounds of grapes you should end up with 4 -5 cups of juice.  After this first straining, put the juice in the fridge and let it settle for a few hours or overnight.

Multiple Batches

If you have a lot of grapes, you can easily clean one batch and start it heating to extract the juice, then clean another batch and set it to heating in a second stock pot.  Clean a third batch and set it aside.  By then Batch 1 should be ready to strain.  You get the idea.

Second Straining

  • more pitchers or big jars
  • sieve strainer and fine-meshed strainer

After the cooled juice has settled, strain it again.  Lots of books recommend using cheese cloth, but I don’t like it.  It is expensive and impossible to rinse clean between batches.  I have a little strainer that came with a coffee maker as a reusable filter, but I never used it for coffee.  It works really well for additional straining of the grape juice.  Some books say to use the paper coffee filters, but that is painfully slow.

You can strain the juice for a third time if you want crystal clear results.  I wanted to be done with a cooler full of grapes, so I did not stress over clarity.


Amounts and Timing – Four pounds of grapes will give you 4 cups of juice, which, after being cooked with 7 cups of sugar, will end up being 4 pints of jelly.  I estimate 1 hour to clean and do the basic juice extraction for a 4-pound batch, 1/2 hour to strain the juice a second time, and 1 hour to cook and hot-water process the batch of jelly. Some of these jobs can be overlapped if you have lots of grapes to process.

If you have your own Cherished Neighbor Liz, get her to come over and help.  You can get a lot of chatting done, and it is also acceptable to drink some wine during this part of the job, as it does not require any sharp tools or much thought.  Promise her lots of jelly — her help will be worth it.

This takes a lot of water.  You are constantly rinsing out bowls, pots, and strainers.  I would not do this in a drought year, but probably the grapes would not grow in a drought year either.

And, before I send you to my post on how to make the jelly, I have learned some options to avoid the canning kettle hassle entirely:

  • the brand Jel-Ease fruit pectin does not require hot water processing.  You boil the jelly two minutes, put it into jars, invert the jars for five minutes to seal them, turn them up and you are done!  We did a taste test and the jelly tastes fine.  It can be hard to find this brand in stores, though.  As a matter of fact, I was going to link to the company (Williams Foods is what it says on the package), but they don’t have any information about this product on their website!
  • you can use the liquid pectin, and then keep the finished jelly in the refrigerator.  (Liquid pectin can also be hot-water processed if you prefer.)

So!  A lot of work, but it is so scrumptious!  I consider this year’s Christmas shopping to be all taken care of — my family will be happy with their jars of jelly!

Pretty and delicious!

Pretty and delicious!


Through the Day with Roy G Biv

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “ROY G. BIV.”

Summer Tanager.

Summer Tanager.







Indigo Bunting in the sunlight.

Indigo Bunting in the sunlight.

Indigo Bunting in the shade.

Indigo Bunting in the shade.

Butterfly pea and Dun Skipper

Butterfly pea and Dun Skipper

The beetle and the grasshopper were from last week, but all the other pictures are from today.  I cheated a little bit by using the same bird for blue and indigo, but this is the first year I have had Indigo Buntings here and I am excited to get good pictures of them!

(I had to update because I forgot to tag and categorize!)

Pixilated Panels

Pixilated Panels

The first time I heard the word pixilated was long before digital imaging.  In the early 1980s, we often spent weekends with some friends on an Arkansas farm.  A few times we played Fictionary, which is a game of trying to make up definitions of unfamiliar words to fool the other players, and then trying to correctly choose the real answer from all the unlikely variations.

Pixilated is probably the only word that remained in my vocabulary from those games.  I learned that it meant “drunk” but to me it was such a picturesque term. I could see someone just slightly tipsy, lightly tripping over their own feet, hiccuping, with their hat awry.  I could see proper women in parlors using the term to discuss their reprehensible neighbors in front of the children.

So decades later, when I saw the little squares that make up digital images, with colors seemingly scrambled from any predictable color order you’d ever seen before, pixelated seemed like the perfect word choice.

So you may remember that I’ve been working on this scrap quilt, and didn’t know what to do with the side panels.  Melanie suggested log cabin squares, and I really liked that idea.  And Joanna said, “It takes a village to make a quilt”, and I thought, “I will make the log cabin blocks look like rows of little houses!”  But as I was working on the blocks, they didn’t feel right to me for this quilt.  I placed them along side, and they reminded me of blue jean quilts.  I realized that I was not going to have room for the little roofs I had planned.  It seemed like the side panels were of a different era than the center, and there was already a lot going on there.

Trying the blue log cabin squares with the center.

Trying the blue log cabin squares with the center.

I used photo editing to see what it would look like with these blue panels on all four sides.

I used photo editing to see what it would look like with these blue panels on all four sides.

(Also, I used random-width strips for the log cabin blocks, and the strips varied a lot in value.  I think if I had stayed with a uniform width and more subtle values, I would have liked the effect better.  But now I have a lot of blocks ready for another quilt.)

So I tried larger squares, and I liked that and went with it.

Trying out larger squares around the sides.

Trying out larger squares around the sides.



I hope it is not as crooked as it looks in the picture!  But I am happy with the overall effect.  It is not the perfect quilt, but it will be useful.  In weaving we do a lot of color gamps and weave structure samplers to try different effects, and that is how I am viewing this quilt, as a visual reference to see what color and design combinations appeal to me, that I want to do more of.  I still need to do the quilting and binding, and then I can get to arranging the yo-yos!

15 in ’15 Second Quarter Check-in

Here we are half way through the year!  Time to report progress on the goals I set at the beginning of the year.

√ 15 fused quilt blocks
I thought I would be making more artistic blocks, but instead I have made about 30 blocks of scrappy squares, and I like them.  I still have plans for artistic ones though.

⇔ 14 fabrics finished up.
I have used up 4 of the 14 that I planned.  I also wanted to use up my 14 gallon bags of scraps.  Even with all those fused blocks, though, I think I have only used up a bag or two.  Melanie‘s idea for me to finish out the scrap quilt with log cabin blocks will surely help me there.   Of course some new fabrics have added themselves to my collection, but I still have a relatively small stash, and I am just trying to keep it circulating, not pare it down completely.

⇔ 13 technique try-outs
I have tried four new techniques.  The ones that have stuck are making yo-yos and fusing scraps.

⇓ 12 practice art quiltets
Only one!  The little wren with silk organza.

√ 11 quilt video segments watched
I have watched all of Season 1 and 2 of Quilting Arts TV, and part of Season 5.   Even though I am checking off this goal, I have not watched any of my Craftsy videos, though.  I will, while I keep turning scraps into yo-yos!

⇑ 10 new supplies sampled
I am more than half-way on this one, using 6 materials that are new to me. I tried two materials for batting on the little lap robes I make for the VA hospital – cotton flannel and polyester fleece.  The cotton flannel was okay.  Other materials that I liked and will use again are silk organza, old linens, and fusible interfacing.  The one I won’t use again is Shiva paint sticks — I was not adept with them, and the smell was not to my liking.

⇔ 9 new dye plants sampled
I have used two new plants, coreopsis, and an as-yet-unidentified dandelion-type plant.  I have a pot of persimmons on the porch, but I have not been able to find any specific directions on how to use them, so I am just dipping both wool and cotton into the persimmon juice and then into soy milk.  I am getting a dark brown from that, but the cloth and yarn are losing flexibility, so I need more information.  I also retried five pond plants to see if I could find the one I got good color from two years ago, but in vain.  I hope to do more experiments, but it will have to wait until we get more clear weather.

⇑ 8 small quilts
I am on schedule with this one, with four done.

⇓ 7 layers of surface design on cloth
I have not done a thing with surface design.  That also goes back to all the rain we are having — it is hard to get outside to do any dyeing or printing.

⇑ 6 sessions of sharing textiles
I have done pretty well here, with 5 talks or lessons.  One more and then my weaving student Liz is on her own!  (okay, not really)

⇔ 5 fiber field trips
This is my biggest disappointment of the quarter.  We got to spend a week in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and I just knew I would see all kinds of fabulous textiles at the historic homes, museums, and antique shops I planned to visit.  But I really didn’t see many — some white chenille bedspreads in a historic home, a museum spinning wheel with the spindle, flyer, and drive band mounted in the wrong place —  I couldn’t even find a quilt or coverlet for sale!  I had a great time, but it was not the fiber fiesta that I had imagined.

I did get to see this lovely portrait from 1830 at the place we stayed, the Marshall House,  It is of Mary Marshall, the one-time owner.  I was pleased with my fashion-dating abilities when I got the date right!

Portrait of Mary Marshall, from the Marshall House in Savannah, GA.

Portrait of Mary Marshall, from the Marshall House in Savannah, GA.  (Scroll down the page to see more information about Mary and the portrait at their website.)

4 warps
Still only one. Again, this goes back to the rain.  Cherished Neighbor Liz cannot even get over here to finish her weaving project or she will get bogged down in the pasture.

⇑ 3 tops (clothing, not quilts)
Well, I have gone “over the top” on this one!  I have 5 cut out and all their machine seams done.   They are just simple cotton sleeveless tops or tunics with three-quarter sleeves, just something cool to wear if I have to go to the store.  I need to do the hand-sewing.  While watching Craftsy videos!  i will probably get them done in time for cool weather in November.

⇔ 2 big quilts
Half-way through the first one!  I think I will get another big one done, too.

× I show
This one is not going to happen.  There was a non-juried show at one of the historic churches here, and they didn’t think they were going to get enough quilts to show, so I planned to enter one just to help them out.  It would have been the least stressful show entry ever.  But I didn’t get one done, and they ended up getting tons of quilts and having a very successful show.  Maybe next year.

So!  I can call two goals completed, and one written off.  I am still working on all the others in some fashion, and I still really like this structure for keeping me working on this year’s priorities.  I am not going off in any new and exciting directions, just having a year of consolidating skills and interests, but sometimes you need a year like that.

Piecing Together Inspiration

Piecing Together Inspiration

It all started when I saw a post on 16-patch blocks.

16-patch block, by Sarah of Confessions of a Fabric Addict.  Used by permission.

16-patch block, by Sarah of Confessions of a Fabric Addict. Used by permission.

Sarah of Confessions of a Fabric Addict had a lovely, thorough tutorial on many ways to piece 16-patches, but the part that really caught my attention was where she talked about how to use fusible interfacing.

She drew her own grid on the interfacing, but I knew that tucked away in a drawer, I had a big piece of gridded fusible interfacing.

I immediately thought that this would be a great project to help me meet some of my “15 in ’15” goals, such as “make 15 fusible blocks,”  “finish up 14 fabrics and scrap bags,”  “try 13 new techniques,”  and “try 10 new materials.”

So I tried it, and I loved it!  After all, what do I love best about quilting?  Putting colors and patterns together in all sorts of combinations!  These little blocks allowed me to do that part quickly, and over and over!  It was like getting all the design fun of an entire quilt, in 20 or 30 minutes.  (An organized person could probably do it quicker, but my scraps weren’t precut.)

I liked it so much I was making 25-patch blocks.  Every night I was sitting down and turning out a block or two, and I quickly went through my gridded fusible and had to go to the store for more. I stitched the blocks together into long strips. I was all set to make a whole quilt of uniform, small squares.

The back of the blocks, showing the fusible interfacing.

The back of the blocks, showing the fusible interfacing.

And then, on another day of blog-reading, I saw this:


Just a "practice page" by Jacqueline Davis at Driftless Page.  Used by permission.

Just a “practice page” by Jacqueline Davis at Driftless Page. Used by permission.

I love all of Jacqueline Davis’s calligraphy, but it was this practice piece that really spoke to me.  The blend of shapes that were all related, and yet varied, and that made it so much more interesting than just endless small squares stretching across a surface. I had to change the composition of my quilt.

I was thinking that maybe I would put in some sections of longer strips, or maybe some applique to use up more scraps…. and I remembered the Lilly-Pilly applique that I loved, from Lucie the Happy Quilter.  I have wanted to do something like that ever since I saw it.

Lilly Pilly applique wall hanging by Lucie the Happy Quilter.  Used by permission.

Lilly Pilly applique wall hanging by Lucie the Happy Quilter. Used by permission.

Lilly Pilly close-up.  Absolutely stunning, and used by permission.

Lilly Pilly close-up. Absolutely stunning, and used by permission.

(Looking at that beautiful tree, I am glad I was just working from memory when I thought about trying to make my design something like this!  If I had really studied it again, I would have been intimidated by delicate applique, the subtle piecing, and the depth of quilting in the background, but fortunately for me I couldn’t find the post, and had to email Lucie and ask her to find it for me!  Well, something to aspire to for the future.)

I thought about cutting out all those little leaves — and then I remembered the big bag of yo-yos I bought at a guild sale, and I decided to make a big bouquet of those in a center panel.

So here is what I have so far.

Looks a little pixilated!

Looks a little pixilated!

Right now the yo-yos are just scattered on top.  I will arrange them and stitch them down, and do stems and leaves out of more scraps and ribbons. I don’t know what I will do for the outside edges.  I have plenty more of the blue that is in the central panel, and I could just put big pieces of that on the sides, but I think it needs more piecing.  (Helpful hints are welcome.)

Technically this quilt has some issues (and I will talk about those later, and what I learned from them), but I really love the design.  I love using up the last little scrap of a fabric, I love mixing and matching patterns in different ways, but the thing I love most about this quilt is that when I look at it, I remember the people who inspired it, and how gracious they were to let me use their ideas here!

I think we all feel that we cannot keep up with the ideas we get from the wonderful publications and blogs out there, but we have fun trying!



Biodiversity…I Spy…Natural Dyes

Today we present!  (Dun-dun-dah)  Textile Ranger – Plant Detective!!!! 

(It would be very helpful if you could read this in the voice of Sgt. Joe Friday from the series Dragnet.)

Here in the deep and lonely woods of East Texas, many plants produce dyes.

Some plants give gorgeous color, like this coreopsis, that produces orange —  (you may be thinking, I don’t think Sgt. Friday ever said “gorgeous”, but there is no arguing with the use of that adjective for this color, so it stays) —




The orange came from coreopsis.

The orange came from coreopsis.

or these pokeberries, that give red —




Pokeberry-dyed yarn.

Pokeberry-dyed yarn.

But while many of these dye plants are well-known and publicized, some look for unknown dye sources.

In 2013, a humble dye novice, aided only by the books Wild Color by Jenny Dean, and Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess, conducted a series of dye experiments.  She tried different mordants, heating methods, and post-processing treatments, searching for non-fugitive colors from native plants.

Eventually she relied on one process and one process only — Step One: prep wool ahead of time by mordanting with alum and cream of tartar (common, grocery-store chemicals), let it dry and wind it into small skeins,about 10 grams. (More details about the process are in this post.)

Step Two: fill a quart jar full of plant material, pour boiling water over the plants, drop a test skein in.  Let it set in the sun all day, and cool in the dye overnight.

Step Three: Remove the skein, let it dry in the shade.  Wait a week or more to rinse.

Being ignorant about plants, the dyer did the dye tests before doing time-consuming study to identify the plants.  Plants that produced good color jumped to the top of the “Most Wanted!” list and were identified as quickly as possible, given the dearth of helpful nature guides and/or websites relating to Miscellaneous Pond Plants.

Two otherwise nondescript plants, dog fennel and waterleaf, yielded clear, colorfast yellow-greens.  The dyer points now carries dyed yarn samples with her whenever she leads nature hikes, to alert others to the value of these  “ordinary weeds”.

dog fennel

Dog fennel and dye sample. Dog fennel is one of those common names that is used for very different plants around the country.



Waterleaf and dye sample.





Day after day the dyer ventured out in the morning, picked a couple of plants, ran dye tests, and recorded results in the evening.  She began to recognize some of the plants, even when she encountered them far from their usual environments.  But as the dye tests often proved disappointing – with weak colors, or maybe no color at all  –  she started to get sloppy on her record-keeping.

One hot July day, some lovely deep colors showed up in one of the jars.

1 and 3, mystery plant in solar jar; 2, dipped in copper after dyeing.  1a, 2a, and 3a show how those colors held up to being in direct sunlight.

1 and 3, mystery plant in solar jar; 2, dipped in copper after dyeing. 1a, 2a, and 3a show how those colors held up to being in direct sunlight.

Thinking she knew which plant produced the color, she thoughtlessly tossed the plant material onto the compost heap.  Several days went by before she picked more of the plant for another test.  But this time, no color resulted!  What happened?  Had she sampled the plant at a particularly dye-some moment in its life?  Or had her memory played her false?!  What plant had produced the bronze???

She scouted the plant’s neighborhood to see what information she could turn up:

Who could pick the prospect from this crowd?

Different spot, same tangle of indistinguishable plants.

Different spot, same tangle of indistinguishable plants.

But everything looked the same.  Nothing tipped her off to which plant would produce those gorgeous bronzed tones.

There was only one thing to do: a Plant Line-up.

Pond plant line-up.  "Where were you on the day of July 23, 2013?"

Pond plant line-up. “Where were you on the day of July 23, 2013?  Were you in a dye pot, HMMM?”

The possible dye producers were rounded up, brought in, and photographed.  All appeared very similar.  Only close study revealed the differences.

Number One has tiny purple, orchid-shaped flowers, and the growing tips look like grass seedheads.  Number Two has tiny four-petaled white flowers, and just more leaves growing at the tops.  Number Three – on further observation, the novice dyer recalled from two years ago that its name is waterleaf – it flowers later in summer, and it has fine but painful thorns. She realized it was not a prospect for the bronzy dye. Number Four has the largest leaves, and red shading at its joints.  Based on the look of its blooms from past summers, it is believed this is primrose willow.

Two more prospects were found and brought in.

Two more prospects for the mystery dye plant.

Two more prospects for the mystery dye plant.

Number Five is thought to be goldenrod, based on old flower stalks found hiding in the plant.  Number Six has coarse, reddish, dandelion-type leaves.

Prospects 1, 2, 4, and 5 were put through the dye test, (the dyer running low on jars at that time), and these are the results handed down.


Sample 1 (purple flower), Sample 2 (white flower),  Sample  4 (red jointed), Sample 5 (goldenrod).

Sample 1 (purple flower), Sample 2 (white flower),
Sample 4 (red jointed), Sample 5 (goldenrod).

All the plants produced a dye in the olive/ gray-green spectrum. Nothing to write home about.  However, the dyer is glad to have distinguished among these very similar plants, and also glad to have tested all the prospects. The best prospect for a bronze-colored dye is Number 4, the unknown plant with the reddish joints.  Further investigation will be made. AND DULY RECORDED.


Biodiversity…I Spy…Old Favorites

There are some animals that I never get tired of.

Barn Swallows.

Barn Swallows.

Belted Kingfisher.

Belted Kingfisher.

Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron.

Southern Leopard Frog.

Southern Leopard Frog.

Widow Skimmer, female.

I don’t know all the dragonfly species that live here, but Dragonflies of Texas by John C. Abbott is helping me to learn them. This one is a Widow Skimmer female.

Blue corporal Dragonfly, juvenile male.

Blue Corporal Dragonfly, juvenile male.

I forgot to put it in yesterday’s post, but this is in response to Just Another Nature Enthusiast’s biodiversity challenge.

I find endless inspiration in nature. If I had unlimited time I could make so many art quilts and paintings based on what I see around me, but for now I feel that it’s more important just to get them documented and identified.  In future years, I want people to be able to look back and see what we had here, to be able to tell how long their own favorites have lived or visited here.