Thursday, November 3, 2011

Grape Jelly-The Fruit of My Labor

This summer my Concord grape vines went wild with growth and so, after about 12 years of letting them freeze on the vine, I felt compelled to make grape jelly. Being that I've never canned anything in my life, I was excited by the challenge. I should have been apprehensive probably, but what did I have to lose? time and a little money. My daughter and I picked 30 plus pounds of grapes! The plan, to lessen the challenge, was to can a batch and see how that felt and go again if all was good. All was good and I canned 60 plus jars of jelly! I feel proud and as my girlfriend Angie would say, "you're all grown up now!" Maybe so.
Okay, this is really easy and not scary at all; plan for a lot of standing and stirring and maybe the need for a massage the day after. Seeing the jelly in the jars and tasting the delicious, fragrant, vibrant grape in a jar preserved for the future is so satisfying.
Here we go:
     Remember, with canning and preserving comes the responsibility to ensure that your food is preserved safely. A little reading up will prep and guide you. Please check out the information provided by the National Center for Home Food Preservation here:
Actually this site is loaded with answers to every question you may encounter and full of other recipes for all types of canning projects and the very helpful, "Principles of Home Canning."
Here is how it all worked for me:
     Being a beginner, I didn't run out and purchase specialty equipment, but instead used two large stock pots, a wire strainer, large multi-purpose bowls or stainless tub/pans, tongs, measuring cups, and a funnel.  I did purchase jelly jars and lids.
     In a nutshell, you are going to make your grape juice, store it in the refrigerator (I stored in quart mason jars), wash and sterilize your jars, mix the juice with the pectin and sugar and cook, place in the prepped jars, place lids on and boil for designated time. Now to the specifics:
     Let's start with the grapes, at the beginning.
Pick your fully ripe grapes, or buy them from your local grower, purchase them on Craig's List (yes, I've seen them there) and place them in the sink and soak in fresh, cold water. As you wash, remove the grapes from the stems and vines and place in a big tub or pan. Crush grapes with a potato masher in batches.  Add 1 cup of water for every 3 1/2 pounds of grapes. Fill a tall, flat bottomed, stock pot with grapes and cook on the stovetop, covered, until boiling then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often to prevent scorching, for 10 minutes. Do not overcook, overcooking will destroy the natural fruit pectin, flavor, and color. Remove from heat and working in small batches, you will strain the juice from the pulp. I used a wire strainer, you could use a jelly bag....I found stirring the grapes around in the strainer helped the juice flow through into a large pan I had placed beneath. You will read in some sources that the jelly will be cloudy if forced through the strainer, I had no such outcome.  Also, information will advise letting the juice stand in a cool place overnight to prevent tartrate crystals from forming in the finished product and then straining the juice before proceeding. I found the best, for my jelly and for my body, was to store the juice in mason jars in the refrigerator for 7-10 days and then no straining---this provided the most beautiful and flavorful of all my batches.
Now that your juice is ready for jelly making, prepare your jars....
     Jelly jars: wash them in hot soapy water and place them in a big pot of water, right side up,  make sure the water covers the jars by 1 inch and boil for 10 minutes at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. At higher elevations, boil 1 additional minute for each additional 1,000 ft elevation. Once sterilized, turn the heat off and cover to keep jars warm or lower temp all the way down until jars are ready to be filled. You don't need to sterilize the rings, but heat a small pan of water to boiling, decrease the temp and place the  tops (with the rubber seals) in the pan...don't boil as this may ruin the rubber seal. Keep warm until ready to seal your jelly jars.
     Now the juice making; this is the easiest step of all, believe it or not.
Here is the recipe calculations I used for my very best batch. You can alter this for the amount of juice you have, just don't prepare a batch of more than 10 cups juice, as the jelly may not set.

7 cups juice
1/2 c. lemon juice
8 Tablespoonfuls pectin. I used "Ball Real Fruit pectin." (They have a great resource website:
9 cups sugar
     Place juice, lemon juice and pectin in large stock pot. Add the pectin slowly, it may clump, don't worry, just use a whisk to stir it once it heats up. Bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add the sugar, and bring back to a rolling boil--STIR CONSTANTLY. Keep in mind this is very hot and you will want to stir constantly and lower your heat to just maintain the boil. Be careful. This will boil over if you walk away. Again, stir constantly and boil hard for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Foam is trash. Done. !
Remove your jelly jars from the hot water pot and place on a towel laid on the counter, prepare to fill. Move your jelly close to your jars, use a ladle and your funnel to fill each jar, leave a 1/4 inch head space (space between top of jelly and lid). Wipe your rims clean with a damp rag, be careful jars are very hot, place a lid with rubber seal on each cleaned rim of the jar, screw the rings on, finger tight only. Place each jar back in the hot water pot to process. Make sure jars are covered with water, bring to a boil and follow this chart for your altitude. I live in CO so I boiled for 15 minutes. I removed jars from water and placed on towel on the counter to cool overnight. Check the lids for seal (concave in the center, should not pop back when pressed with finger), if not sealed place in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks. Canning is so easy. Go for it! You'll be so proud and ...Grown Up!

Table 1. Recommended process time for Grape Jelly in a boiling water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
or Pints
5 min1015

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