Mustang Grape Jelly Update

(Warning – LOTS of information, and no pictures.  No, I can’t do that.  Let’s change it to lots of information, and mostly random pictures.)

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I made the mustang grape jelly, and since it all jelled, and all the jars sealed, I guess it’s safe to post my recipe and results.  I have canned before, but I am no expert.  When I was trying to make the jelly, I had to hunt in lots of places for the information I needed.  So if you are trying to put up your own jelly, maybe my experience can help.

I used the book Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt (2001, HP Books) as my basic reference.  This woman is a jelly-making fiend!  She has made almost 300 different types of preserves, and apparently has won state fair competitions with all of them.

However, she did not include any recipes for mustang grapes so I adapted her tips for processing concord grapes, and the recipe for regular grape jelly from the pectin package.

I tried liquid pectin, regular powdered pectin, and no-sugar-needed pectin.  I couldn’t tell any difference between liquid and powdered, and the powdered is a lot cheaper, so that’s what I will use from now on.

The basic recipe is easy –

5 cups of mustang grape juice (if you are short, you can make up the amount with bottled grape or apple juice, or even water)

1 package of powdered pectin (I used Sure-Jell)

7 cups of sugar

If you are an experienced canner, that’s probably all the information you need.  If you’re not, here’s more detail.  The procedure is easy, but time-consuming.

grapes on the vine

The grapes are waiting…

Day 1

Pick grapes – it will take about one and a half hours to pick about 8 gallons of grapes

Process grapes into juice – two hours.  (I updated this part in 2016, based on further experience.)

Option One: Wash grapes and run them through a juicer.  Collect the juice into glass containers and refrigerate.  (There will be a lot of cloudy sediment, and it really sticks to any surface – plastic pitchers will not be easy to clean, so use glass if you can.)  Pour pulp into a pot with one and a half cups water  ( I used two pasta pots, with 1 and 1/2 cups water added to each), heat to boiling, simmer 20 minutes.  Let cool a little, and then strain juice overnight.  I used a metal colander set in a big plastic container, with layers of cheesecloth.  It is pretty time-consuming because you have to constantly clean out pulp.

Option Two:  (my preferred method)  Wash the grapes several times and then heat four pounds of grapes with one cup of water (doesn’t sound like enough but it is) for 5 – 10 minutes, until grapes start splitting.  Set aside for 20 minutes to settle, then strain the juice and discard the grape pulp.  You can see more details in this post.  This way is a lot quicker and less messy.

Day 2

pollen on pond

First, gather your thoughts…


  • canning jars  – I use pints – 5 for each batch of jelly
  • canning rings and lids (lids have to be new)
  • tongs or lid magnet lifter to grab lids out of water (see below)
  • canning kettle and rack
  • funnel
  • ladle
  • a couple of old plastic bowls or paper plates, to set the funnel and ladle on when they’re not being used
  • jar lifter
  • lots of towels – you want some under the jars while you fill them to catch jelly drips, and some to set the processed jars on to cool
  • big bowl for sugar
  • 6- or 8-quart pot for cooking the jelly
  • measuring cups
  • long-handled stirring spoon
  • oven mitts

Prepare jars

For sterilization, the canning jars need to be clean and stay hot until you need them.  I run them through the dishwasher all by themselves and leave them in there on heat dry.

Put the rings and lids into a pan of hot water, and leave them on the cook top to reheat as needed.  They are supposed to be hot so they will seal well, but they are not supposed to boil.  I used hot tap water, and occasionally turned the burner on to low to keep them warm.

canning supplies

jelly pot and canning kettle

Prepare the canning kettle

Fill it almost to the top.  The hot water is going to need to be 1 inch over the tops of the jelly jars when they are processing.  Put the canning rack into the water. Start it heating.

If you have hard water, and don’t want mineral deposits on your jelly jars, you can put a little vinegar into the water.

Keep a tea kettle or other pan full of hot water, so you can add more to the canning kettle if necessary.

painted bunting

Take a break to go look at the painted bunting…

ribbon snake

But don’t step on the snake…

FINALLY start making the jelly – this part takes about half an hour

Measure out the 7 cups of sugar into a bowl.  You cannot use less or it won’t set up right – and these grapes are so sour, you will need all the sugar.

Measure the 5 cups of juice into the 6- or 8-quart pot.

Set up the hot jars on the counter, with the funnel, and enough space to set the cooking pot.

Start heating the juice.

Sprinkle the powdered pectin into the juice and stir it until it dissolves.

When the juice comes to a rolling boil, stir in the sugar quickly.  ( I poured with one hand and stirred constantly with the other.)

Bring it back to a boil, and let it boil one minute.  (Just so you know, nothing bad happened if it boiled a little longer than a minute.)  Remove from heat.

Put the funnel over a jar and ladle the hot jelly into it, repeating with all the jars.  You want to get to about 1/4 inch from the top of the jar.

Wipe any spilled jelly off the outsides of the jars.

Get the lids and rings out of the hot water and cover the jars as quickly as possible.  I tightened the rings twice – as they cooled a little, I would find that they were a little loose.  I didn’t tighten them to death though.

Process the jars –  this part takes about half an hour

Elevate the canning rack (mine expands and then can rest along the top of the kettle), and set the jars into it with the jar lifter.

Let the rack down and make sure the water is 1 inch above their tops.  Add more hot water if you need to. Cover the kettle.

Bring water to a gentle boil.  Let it boil for 5 minutes. (Some recipes I consulted said 10 minutes – it didn’t seem to matter in my finished product.)

Lift the rack out of the water, lift each jar out separately (I don’t trust the canning rack to hold all the jars) and set it on towels to cool.

Let the jars sit at room temperature for 24 hours, and check for a seal by making sure the lid won’t flex up and down.  (I heard all my lids pop down after about 5 minutes.)

black-bellied whistling ducks

Go check on the black-bellied whistling ducks…

Multiple Batches

That is a lot of work for 5 little jars of jelly, so I did multiple batches.  In theory, I could have had one batch processing in the canning kettle while I stirred up a new batch of jelly, but that was too much multitasking for me.  I cooked a batch of jelly, put it in the canning kettle, cleaned the pot, and measured a new set of ingredients while the first set of jars processed.  That way I didn’t find myself having to add sugar at the same moment I needed to be pulling jars out.

Now that I know what I am doing (sort of), I think I could make 15 jars of jelly in about 3 or 4 hours.

No Sugar Added

I made a few batches with sucralose (Splenda®) instead of sugar.  I really wouldn’t do that again.  The recipe for no-sugar-added pectin suggested one and a half cups of sucralose – I tasted as I stirred and ended up doubling that, and it still tasted really really tart.  Also sucralose doesn’t have the mass of sugar, so it all kind of dissolves, and I ended up with only two jars per batch.  I am not going to sit over a pot of boiling juice for 20 minutes, for two little jars of anything.

Cost and Results

The grapes were free but this is not cheap.  Jars were $7.50 a dozen last year, $9.50 a dozen this year.  Each batch took about $1.25 worth of sugar, and pectin was $1.50 for the powdered type, $3.50 for the liquid type. So each jar cost between $1.25 and $1.85, depending on the type of pectin.   Sucralose is much more expensive than sugar and produced less jelly, so those jars cost about$3.20 each.  If I just wanted jelly, I could probably get it for that price at any store.

Also, the grape juice sediment sticks to everything!  And it does not come off in the dishwasher.  Clean-up is more time-consuming than with other fruits I have used.

The jelly is very tasty though!  Nice and fruity.  My conclusion is that I will probably do this every year, but I have no plans to go into entering state fairs as a money-making occupation!

whitetail deer

Now go take a break – you deserve it!