Monday, September 14, 2009
Grape Jelly: A Photo Essay
As you know, I've been canning like Ma Ingalls this summer. I did a bit last year and I've done a little canning before, but this summer I've been especially busy (considering we're eating it all just as fast as I can can it, which kind of misses the point of canning but whatever). It only started to feel like real old-fashioned canning, though, when we began The Concord Grape Jelly Project. Click on any picture here for a larger version.
There's a house down the street from us, for sale, and as far as we can tell no one's living there. On a recent walk, we noticed a long fence on the property that was completely covered with perfectly ripe Concord grapes. These little grapes are famous for the jelly and juice you get at the store; people tend not to purchase these grapes whole, as they have tough little skins and large, crunchy, acidic seeds. I like to eat them myself, but not many people do. Their flavor is excellent for processing though.
So Keith devoted a couple of days to harvesting and came up with several baskets full of lovely little grapes.
We put on "Firefly" and kicked back to pick and sort all those grapes. The little shrivelly ones, the overripe and underripe, went into one bowl for the chickens (who love them), the vines went into a bag for the compost heap, and the good grapes went into many large bowls (and my tummy).
Next I had to take a potato masher and squish all the grapes up. Would've been fun to pile them up in a tub and stomp them like Italian wine grapes, but I didn't want to mess up my pedicure. About halfway through mashing them, I added about half a cup of water.
The mashed grapes then need to come to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. This looks kind of nasty, but it makes the most delicious smell - I can't even describe it. It's a sweet, earthy, kind of childish smell. I think it comes from the yeast bloom on the grape skins.
After this I had to strain the hot squished grapes thoroughly through clean pantyhose. I didn't get any pictures of this part, but let me tell you it is damned messy. I did some, Keith did some, and for a couple of days we both had purple hands. The countertops were stained and had to be bleached, and thank goodness I had on a black shirt. The dried solids went into the compost heap, and the strained juice went into many jars. It didn't come out looking like grape juice at all; it was a bright pink color. And it didn't taste like the grape juice you want to drink. It was very acidic, tart in the way that's unappealing to a gal like me who eats limes by themselves, and not at all sweet. The juice had to sit out on the counter overnight.
At this point more solids sank to the bottom, so the juice had to be strained again. Then I poured it all into a pan and turned on the heat. This has to be made one batch at a time or it won't set right. I used four cups of juice per batch and stirred in four cups of sugar (yeah, it needs to be that much to jelly and also to keep it from spoiling; most people use even more) and 2 Tbsp lemon juice just to be safe. I brought it all to a boil...
And here's the cool part, which I couldn't get a good picture of. At the moment that it starts to boil, the bright fuschia color instantaneously turns to dark purple. I have no idea how or why this works but this is what happens. It's amazing, it's incredible, it's alchemy! This is why I love canning.
I have several jars put away already and still more to do; I'm going to try and finish up the rest of it today. The grapes have all been harvested, so there's no more to do once I finish this. It's been a fun project, though I'm now drowning in more grape jelly than I can ever use. But here's the reason I love Portland - there will be a preserve swap at the end of the month, where I can trade my extra jelly jars for lots of other interesting things that other people have made! This way I can fill out our larder without eating too much of one thing or spending any money. I can't wait to see what I can trade for.
In the meantime, I'm happy to report that this jelly tastes excellent with peanut butter. Welch's really just can't compare.