(get it? since it’s almost Halloween? I know, it’s weak…)  The older I get, the more I love routines connected with the seasons, reminding myself to enjoy each fall.  Or whatever.  Annie makes grape jelly every fall from the Concord grapes in her backyard.  Somehow I managed to get on the elite list of jelly recipients, and then would ration the jelly from that 1 jar thru the year.  Then last year I got to make the actual jelly with her, along with a running commentary of how her grandmother made blue-ribbon-winning batches.  This year she said “I’m harvesting grapes this weekend if you want to come over!”  We’d just gotten back from vacation, and I am still looking for any reason to be outside in this lovely fall heat, want to soak it up before the snow hits.  Her grape vine is as old as her house, so 50-ish (just like us… ).  It was sagging with purple clusters, and trailed along the fence and up into the nearest apple tree.  We could see grapes and apples high up into the branches.  The backyard smelled like cider and rotting leaves, that warm fall scent that’s so much better than the candles.  So we set to work filling a couple of large plastic bowls.  Then she brought out some soup pots to dump the harvest into.

When those were overflowing, out came a huge black plastic tub.  We picked what we could on foot, then climbed up a ladder into the leafy canopy, disturbing the birds, clutching vines and yanking. There is something very satisfying about the whole process, from hands covered in sticky juice and dirt, leaves stuck in hair, to an overflowing tub o’ grapes.  Ann said it’s the biggest harvest she’s ever seen.  She also said “this reminds me of an I Love Lucy episode… ”

Next step, have a seat in the sun and separate the grapes from the stems.  Livvie said she’d time how long it took us, but she lost interest after about 15 mins.  It took longer than I woulda thunk, but we agreed it felt like the perfect thing to be doing for the season.

Our bible for the jellying is The Joy, although the first page I opened to discussed snail preparation.  “The Romans, who were addicted to snails, grew them on ranches where they were fed special foods like bay, wine and spicy soups as preseasoning.”  And then there’s “about Turtles and Terrapin:  Sea or green turtles are peaceable and sagacious.”  So why the heck would you eat them?

I took home 14 lbs of grapes to crush and boil down to juice and strain (no, no barefoot stomping).  And this was only a quarter of the haul!

So you get it all boiled down, the house smelling like a Welch’s factory, then strain the juice through cheesecloth.

Ann calls this the bee hive.  You want every last drop of that juice!  But you can’t squeeze it because then you won’t get state-fair-clear jelly.

In case you were wondering, 14 lbs of grapes = 14 cups of juicy juice.  Mmmm delicious. Ann swears by it as a tonic to start your morning, “better than coffee!”.

So last weekend was jellytime.  Saturday I did one version with grape juice, sugar, and low sugar Sure Jell (oooh, just heard one of the lids pop!), and a second batch trying the Italian method (from The Silver Spoon cookbook – a fat encyclopedia of Italian recipes) using grape juice, much less sugar, and no pectin, just boiling it down.  (it says white grapes, and I’m using Concords, details…)  I want to do a taste test and see how they compare on the sweetness meter, if it’s even noticeable that there is half as much sugar in v2.

Standing there stirring, it’s so hard not to add anything to the pot.  A little ginger, some cinnamon or nutmeg, or maybe black pepper (like some of the savory juice mixes in India)?  But that wouldn’t be a fair comparison (since when is this all in the name of science?).

Ok I gave up on the Italian method.  It had reduced by a third but wasn’t looking like it was thinking of thickening anytime soon.  So I added some pectin.  Maybe Italian grapes have more pectin.  Maybe Italians have more patience. Maybe they use their grapes for vino and don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to jelly (ding ding ding!).

6 cups of juice = 7 jelly jars with version 1.  6 cups of juice = 4 jelly jars with version 2.

Sunday we repeated the process at Ann’s, she’s now the proud owner of 14 more jars.  And she still had juice left over so sent me home with several large jars of that (looked like I was rum running purple moonshine).  We are going to be so stinkin healthy.  I picked up a box of saltines on the way home.  Fresh grape jelly spread on a saltine, that’s how Ann and her grandma used to enjoy whatever was left in the pan.  You oughta try it!  (I know where you can find some jelly)

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