For three years, we’ve been living on land that has been in my husband’s family for 50 years, but we are still far from knowing everything about it. Just this weekend as my husband was mowing the pasture, a man stopped along the road and asked if it was ok to pick some of the wild grapes growing on our property. He said his wife liked to make jelly from them. Since he had just educated us as to the presence of the grapes, it seemed fair to let him pick some.
I knew we had grape vines, but the ones I had seen just crawled along the ground. I hadn’t checked for ripe grapes yet, because I had no idea they would be ready so early in the year. We went out the next day, and were amazed at how many grapes there were! The grape vine climbed 40 feet up an old pine tree, and it was full of plump dark grapes.
Fortunately we have an old orchard ladder so we could reach lots of grapes. While I was picking, I was comparing it to picking the dewberries that also grow here – but they grow along the ground on thorny vines, so you have to watch for snakes and thorns simultaneously, and there are only a few berries per bush ripe at any given time, so you have to cover a lot of territory to get a decent amount of berries. Picking grapes seemed a lot easier.
All the same, my husband kept wishing for more help. He kept saying things like, “Where’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when you need him? How about the Jolly Green Giant? Where’s he?” I was up on the ladder, so I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure I heard him say, “Hey, don’t you know some flying monkeys?”
After an hour or two we went back to the house with about 8 gallons of grapes, and I looked up the jelly recipe. The book I had said to squeeze the skin off each grape, cut up the skins, and cook them in water for about 10 minutes. Right.
Fortunately I have a juicer! I just ran bunches of grapes through a few rinse tubs, and then put them through the juicer, seeds, skins, stems, and all. (Alton Brown advertises that that is what Welch’s does, so it must be ok.) From 2 cups of grapes, the juicer produced about a quarter cup of juice, and a cup of packed grape pulp. Eventually I had about 2 gallons of juice, cloudy like apple cider can be. I also cooked the pulp with a little water for 10 minutes, let it cool, and then strained off the juice, which gave me about 2 more gallons of beautiful clear red juice.
Then I took the pulp and added it to the gorgeous compost tumbler my husband just made, all from old stuff we had laying around.
The juice is really sour, which is probably why the grapes are still on the vines, and not in the digestive systems of the deer, foxes, and birds around here. But most jams and jellies just taste sugary to me, not fruity, so I was hopeful that the sourness of the wild grapes would produce a fresh flavor.
Today I made three batches of jelly, two with sugar and one with sucralose. I sampled a spoonful and it had just the tart fruity taste I was hoping for. I got 14 jars from about a gallon of juice. Now we just need to wait and see if they set up. Family members, act surprised when I bring you a jar!