Juicy

What an exhausting week! We went to the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo on Sunday; transplanted leeks, made beef jerky, and knit a toddler vest on Monday; harvested grapes from the backyard vine on Tuesday; and spent yesterday and today standing in front of the stove, canning jam, jelly, relishes, pickles, and juice. I’ll delve into the savories later on—this post is dedicated to grape juice!

The first step of making fresh grape juice is stemming and rinsing the grapes. This process can take quite a while when you have pounds and pounds to get through; the three of us spent at least two hours on stemming alone, and we still have almost half the grapes on the vine left to harvest! Our grapes are purple slipskin grapes that are somewhat smaller than Concords. Here my mom was painstakingly rinsing and draining grapes a handful at a time, washing away the little spiders and immature green grapes that get in with the ripe fruit. Notice her stylish apron, a gift from my great-aunt Maxine. 🙂

The next step is procuring sufficient quart jars with fresh lids. Since my parents still have like two dozen jars of juice in the basement from last year, we ended up having to buy a few boxes of new jars. We sterilized them in the dishwasher, got the huge canner boiling, and filled each jar with 2 cups of grapes and a quarter-cup of organic sugar.

Each jar then gets topped off with boiling water, sealed up with a hot lid and ring, and dropped into the canner for processing. That’s right—this grape juice is made without having to juice the grapes! No simmering, no tedious drip-straining through a cloth sack; just grapes, sweetener, and hot water. It is the perfect recipe to use when you have an enormous number of grapes to preserve and not enough hours in the day!

The jars come out of the canner already full of purple juice. After a few weeks of developing flavor, they will be ready to crack open and sample. Just be sure to pour it through a strainer to catch the grapes, which can potentially be used for another recipe if you don’t mind running them through a food mill to remove the seeds.

In addition to the 28 quarts of grape juice we have canned so far, I also used several pounds of grapes to make what ended up being 2.5 pints of jam, and also tried making a batch of jelly from some of last year’s juice. Both batches required a lot more boiling time and the use of more pectin than I would have expected, but maybe I was just impatient. All I know is we ended up with just 5 pints of some pretty tasty jam and jelly after what felt like hours and hours of work. I have to say it was a worthwhile effort though, because Nolan, who usually doesn’t care much for jam, gobbled some down on toast for breakfast and gave me a new medium for feeding him his dietary enzyme.

The jam was pretty labor-intensive: for our one small batch, we had to slip the skins from 3.5 pounds of grapes, puree them with sugar, simmer them with the naked grapes and more sugar, then run the whole lot through a food mill to remove the seeds and other solids. Even though I know that grape pomace (the leavings that remain after making grape juice or jam) helps make an especially rich compost, I decided to try getting one more round of use out of it first by making my own vinegar. Last year I had great success making cider vinegar from the peels and cores of apples, pears, and Asian pears, so I applied the same principle to this pomace. We’ll know in a few weeks if it works!

Easiest Canned Grape Juice

Concord or similar sweet purple grapes (2 C per quart jar)
Organic sugar, xylitol, or honey (1/4-1/2 C per quart jar)

Heat water in your canner, sterilize quart jars (we use the dishwasher), and bring fresh lids and rings to a boil in a small pot of water. Stem and rinse all your grapes, making sure to remove any little green unripe grapes from them as you go. Also heat kettlesful of filtered water.

When everything is ready to go, set out enough quart jars to fill your canner (ours will hold seven at a time). Use a funnel to fill each jar with 2 cups of grapes and up to 1/2 cup of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the grapes and your personal preference. (My mom made hers with 1/3 C last year, and it made surprisingly sweet juice!) Top each jar with enough boiling water to fill, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe the rim of each jar, top with a hot lid and screw on the ring; lower into the canner with jar tongs. When the canner is full, lower the cans down into the water and return to a rolling boil. Cover and process for 10 minutes.

Make sure the lids have sealed properly, then store for at least 3 weeks before drinking. You will need to drain the juice through a strainer to remove the grapes.

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