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!

Updates from 2017:

I have always picked the grapes when they first seemed ripe, around Father’s Day, the middle of June.  This year I didn’t get to them until the first of August, and they were fine.  The skins were maybe a little tougher, but I still got more than 4 cups of juice from 4 pounds of grapes.

Also, I stuck with the Jel-Ease fruit pectin that I first tried in 2015.  Complete instructions are in the package, but essentially you sterilize your jars and lids, measure out the sugar ahead of time for easy pouring, mix pectin into juice and bring it to a boil (about 5 minutes), pour in sugar and return it to a boil, and boil for two minutes.  Then ladle the hot mixture into the clean jars.  Close up the lids, invert the jars for 5 minutes, turn them back upright, and let them set for 24 hours.  That’s it!  No canning kettle and hot water bath!

The ones we made this way in 2015 were just as clear and tasty as the ones we made with other brands and ran through the hot water bath.  I like being able to skip that last step.