Friday, October 5, 2012

Concord Grape Jelly (and the errors of my ways)

The Garnet Gleam of Concord Grape Jelly
So.... I mentioned having a ton of grapes the other day. Well, it wasn't really a ton... it was 13 pounds. I exaggerated. I can't even say that it seemed like a ton of grapes. I've actually had hands-on experience with what an actual ton (or twenty) of grapes is like when Hubby and I help with the wine crush at our favorite winery each autumn.

Our harvest of Concord grapes was like a drop in the proverbial bucket (barrel?) compared to that. But since my backyard is a far cry from ever being called a vineyard and my kitchen is certainly no winery... those 13 lbs. still seemed like a whole awful lotta grapes.

Making the most of what we've been given
The vines came with the house, stealthily growing under the ivy on the back fence. And although we didn't plant them, pay them any attention, or even want them... there they were: fat, juicy, sweet, abundant, and free. They were a truly a gift to us, and I wasn't about to waste them.

Well, what else do you do with Concord grapes but make juice or jelly with them?* So that's just what I did. And what a project it was too. I ended up making two separate batches of jelly and still had a half-gallon of juice left over (it's in the freezer for now til I figure out what to do with it).

This stuff is seriously grape-y
I used the directions from page 30 (juice for jelly instructions) and page 36 (Grape Jelly without added pectin) of the Ball Blue Book: Guide To Canning. I didn't deviate from the recipe one bit. When canning, it's very important to use trusted recipes and follow directions. It's also helpful to read a lot about the process and learn from other home-canners. With that in mind (cough, cough), here are some canning tips from me... 

What Not To Do When Making Grape Jelly
  1. Don't squeeze the jelly bag. I realize that possibly sounds somewhat naughty depending on the crowd you run with, but there's really no other way to say it. I had three make-shift jelly bags hanging from my cupboards filtering all that grape juice. I got impatient and helped one of them along. Whoops! So two jars of the filtered juice were clear like crystal... the other, clear like mud. If you don't care about the clarity of the finished jelly, go ahead and squeeze away... it won't affect the flavor just the looks.   
  2. Don't underestimate the size pan you will need. My first batch of combined grape juice and sugar seemed like an easy fit for my largest sauce pan. I thought, "Why not try it? Why use the big stock pot for such a small amount?"... friends, these are dangerous thoughts to have creep into your brain when canning. If it happens to you, just give those thoughts two tight slaps, get the big pot out of the cupboard and continue your canning prep. Cleaning a big stockpot is a breeze compared to de-sticky-grape-ifying parts of your stove you've never even seen before.
  3. Don't leave the stove for a minute. Surprisingly enough, I didn't do this (this time). I thought it was important enough to repeat the warning though. No matter how temped you may be to step away to check e-mail or Pinterest, stay where you are and just stick with it (ha ha).
  4. Don't forget to wear a full apron. Luckily I was wearing a black t-shirt and old jeans for the first batch, but I sure as heck remembered the apron when making the second batch the next day. There were purple spatters everywhere (much of it due to #2 above). Cover yourself.
Happy canning!

    *This is not a rhetorical question! Any ideas out there? There must be other things to make with these ubiquitous back yard grapes... chime in!
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