It has been almost a week since Nina and I went to pick grapes. Every year we go to my husband’s grandparent’s house and pick the most flavorful Concord grapes. We stand on a rickety picnic table under a pergola densely covered with clusters of deep violet globes checking out where best to start cutting.
It’s a very humble pergola. Nothing fancy. Just something his grandfather put together with pipes and concrete way back in the 70’s. Even still, now it is beautifully covered in woody vines, bright green leaves and an abundance of fruit. I remember a family picnic where we all sat comfortably dry during an intense downpour. As odd as it may sound, it was kind of magical.
When I go there this time of year to harvest, what strikes me most is the heady smell of the grapes. Nina and I always stand there for a moment, close our eyes and just breathe deeply and try to take it all in.
We get our scissors and our buckets and go to town, clipping away cluster by cluster. This year, we must have picked 15-20 pounds of grapes! So much I had to share with my neighbor and canning “sister”.
Making grape jelly from scratch is a bit labor intensive. Cleaning all the grapes from the vines, washing them and getting them prepped for juicing is very time consuming. Especially with such a large amount. My sinks were filled and my hands were very pruny when I finished.
The husband told me I was crazy. That I should go buy some Smuckers and be done with it. But what he doesn’t understand is that it’s the process that I love. There’s something about taking a fruit that was planted by his grandfather so many years ago and creating something so sweet and flavorful that seem to make it more special and delicious.
Let me tell you, this is no Smuckers jelly people. It is not overly sweet, but more like the bouquet of a good red wine. The taste is the same aroma I take in when I stand under the vines, and every bite reminds me of good times.
Once you get past all the cleaning and prep work, the recipe is actually very simple. I followed the recipe from pickyourown.org. This is a great website to find what’s growing in your area and what farms you can pick at. The step by step pictures are a huge help.
This is the second year I have used this recipe and I have been pleased with the results. Although I did adjust the amount of juice and pectin this year because I had so much juice. Grape jelly really needs to be made in small batches or it doesn’t jell right. But this ratio works for me. If you don’t have access to fresh grapes that you have picked yourself, you can purchase grapes at the store or use bottled grape juice (that recipe is on the website as well).
Last year I mashed and strained (and strained and strained and strained some more). This year I smartened up and used a juicer. A whole lot easier. This is a must if you are using fresh grapes. I will never make this jelly again without a juicer. Be careful of flying grape seeds though! I am still finding them all over the kitchen.
If you aren’t familiar with canning, which by the way I am not, I suggest experimenting. Although you do have to invest in supplies, it is worth it. And canning kits are reasonably priced. Typically, the people I give jars to will always give them back. Hoping for a refill possibly? So, they always get reused. They just get new lids and a new life.
I hope you try it.
6 cups grape juice
4 c. sugar
1 package no-sugar pectin
1 pouch liquid pectin
1. Prepare your jars and lids. I wash mine in hot soapy water, place on a cookie sheet in a 200F oven for 20 minutes then leave in the warm oven until you need them. place lids in almost boiling water for approximately 5 minutes before use. Get your water bath canner ready, making sure the water will cover all the jars by at least 2 inches when boiling.
2. In a small bowl mix 1/2 c. sugar with the package of pectin and set aside.
3. In a large saucepan heat grape juice and pectin/sugar mixture on medium-high until a full boil (one you cannot stir away), approximately 5-10 minutes, stirring often so it doesn’t burn.
4. Once full boil is obtained, add the remaining sugar and pouch of liquid pectin and bring back to a boil. Boil hard for a full minute.
5. Test for doneness. Keep a glass of ice water and a tablespoon ready. Take half a spoonful of jelly, let it cool to room temperature. If it thickens to the desired consistency, then it’s ready. If not, add more pectin 1/4-1/2 of another package and bring it to a boil again for another minute.
6. Fill the sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe rims, seal with lids and tighten rings.
7. Keep the jars covered with at least 2 inches of water and boil for 5 minutes (longer if you are at higher altitudes, instructions in the box will tell you).
8. Remove with jar lifter and let cool in a draft-free place overnight. Listen for beautiful popping sound! Music to my ears. Loosen the rings so any trapped water releases so rings don’t rust in place. Jars that don’t seal properly can be stored in the refrigerator.
*These can take a while to set even after cooling. I opened a jar and put it in the refrigerator and the next day it was absolutely perfect. Maybe I needed more pectin, I don’t know. But to me jelly always tastes better chilled, so it was perfect for me. But don’t be afraid to add more pectin if you don’t like the set when you test it.
This recipe yielded 16 4 oz. Ball jars