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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wild Grape Jelly

Earlier this week as we were getting our bikes unchained from the deck on our porch, I noticed that we have something that looks like blueberries growing on a vine that covers our porch. This has never happened before that we know of. So, I immediately called up our landlady and asked: "What berries grow on that vine?" The answer was: "I don't know, there was never any berries on it when we lived there."

Okay... that's not helpful, so I had to determine what they were, and more importantly, were they edible or poisonous? I went online to find several resources to answer this very question, and discovered that due to the jagged edges on the leaves, the fact that the vine has tendrils, and that the berry itself has more than one seed (the poisonous lookalike has smooth leaves, no tendrils, and only one moon-shaped seed - it's called a moonseed, fyi), that this is definitely a wild grape wine. Yea!

So..... now what do I do with it? As an amateur wine maker, I was tempted to make wine with it, but I really didn't think I would find enough berries to make wine with, so I said: "I'll just have to make Jelly with it," and the response from my boys was an overwhelming: "YES!!!!!"

Okay, so I guess I'm making jelly, lol!

I then went online to figure out how in the world to do that - since I had never made jelly before. When buying it in the store, I tend to look for several things before I buy a jelly. First, I want it to be organic, and second, I want it to have as little sugar in it as possible. I love the few varieties that have no added sugar!

Alas, that was not to be, at least not for this batch of jelly. The wild grapes themselves - or at least these ones - are VERY tart and sour. There's no way we could have simply eaten them by themselves. And had I tried to make them into a sugar free jelly, no one would have wanted to eat it, lol!

So I found a really simple recipe online, and - being a simple is usually best kind of girl - I decided that this was the recipe for me :-) Concord Grape Jam

SOOOO, I grabbed a large bowl and headed outside with my helpers to pick any grapes that we could find on the vine. To give you an example of why the grapes were hard to find - or even notice in the first place - here's a picture of the wild grape vine growing on our porch:

As you can see, if you look REALLY closely at the middle upper right of the picture, there is one small cluster of berries. The leaves are huge and do a really good job of hiding the grapes from view. It's no wonder that we've never noticed them before, however, I really don't think they grew before. Shrugs.

Anyway, having gone out to pick them, I only found a few handfuls growing on the vine that covers the porch. Not really enough for making into anything... And then we looked around the corner. The vine has completely grown over either a small tree or a bush that is a foot or so away from our porch. If you get inside the veil of leaves, you'd find a virtual gold mine of grapes! Sadly, I didn't take a picture of that, mostly because I didn't want to get inside it, lol. I sent my eager-to-please boys in there to pick the grapes for me.

When the bowl I was holding got pretty darn full of grapes, I realized that I actually did have enough to make wine with, however, I was committed to making Jelly, lol!

And honestly, we probably didn't even pick half the grapes found in that little secret hiding spot of theirs. It just goes to show you that most people don't really look at the things around them, lol!

So then I had the dubious pleasure of picking all those tiny grapes off the pieces of vine we plucked. As I did so, I realized that I might be better suited to the role of a farm wife than I thought. If hubby did all the insanely early in the morning chores (since he is an early bird no matter how late he goes to bed), and if I had the boys or perhaps a helper do all the cleaning, I myself would have no problem doing all the evening chores and canning and just basically processing the harvest of our farm... if we had one, sigh...

Anyway, picking each individual berry off the stem gave me time for my mind to wander, and when my mind wanders, I get inspired to write, so really, I AM suited to this kind of work :-)

Now you can see why I thought they were blueberries, lol! It occurs to me that in these pics, you can't really see how huge the bowl and colander really are, so it looks like I have maybe a couple of handfuls here. I assure you that it's closer to six cups!!!

And here's how I know: This shows only half of the berries, and according to my blender, it's 3 cups. I simply could not fit all of the berries in my 5 cup blender, so I divided it into two roughly equal portions :-) Also, if you read the link to the original recipe I posted, you'll understand that I am lightly blending the grapes simply to remove the seeds and peels.

 I forgot to take a picture of the smaller colander I used to strain the juice from the berries. I squeezed them by hand to extract the most juice from them, tossing the squeezed portion back into the blender. My hand got so purple that I was reminded of the grape stomping episode of I Love Lucy, lol! However, it washed right off, so I didn't manage to get a picture of that either, :-(

To the squeezed stuff that got tossed back in blender, I added a cup or so of water and lightly blended it one more time to get the most juice from it. Then I hand squeezed it all over again, lol! However, after that, I tossed it in the garbage. I was tempted to rinse ALL of the juice out of it, but I knew that the more water I added to it now, the more water I would have to boil out of it later, so I stopped here :-)

I didn't measure how much juice this is, but I'd guess about 3 cups. As I previously stated, these grapes were very tart and sour. Simply licking a bit of the juice off my finger was enough to pucker my mouth the same way as if I had just sucked on a slice of fresh lemon. It also caused my mouth and hand - that I had squeezed the berries with - to tingle in a way that kind of itched. A quick test on my hubby and kids ensured that I was the only one that experienced this, so I think maybe I might be mildly allergic to these grapes.

In any case, they seriously needed sugar, but not TOO much sugar. So - after sending hubby to the store to pick some organic sugar up because we rarely use sugar in our house - I started with a cup, passed out taste tests, and then added another 1/2 a cup. At that point, it was sweet but still tart. My hubby compared it favorably to real grape juice. Yea!

I also set this on low to medium-low heat until it started to boil gently, then I adjusted the heat until I was fairly sure that it would simmer without burning. Even so, I think it did scorch ever so slightly towards the end.  It still tasted REALLY good :-)

I let it simmer uncovered for over an hour - stirring every few minutes - because the success of this recipe depends on reducing the original amount of liquid until you get a good thick syrup that will cool into a jelly consistency. The original recipe I followed warned me that it was REALLY easy to overdo the thickness, so when it started looking nice and viscous (meaning that the syrup clung to the spoon like a jealous lover), I started taking a half a spoonful and setting it aside to cool. On my second attempt, it "jelled." So I promptly turned the heat off and let it cool a little.

Here, my older assistant models the lightly jelled sample on the spoon, lol!
 Of course, the first pic I forgot the flash, so I took another.
And then the second pic, he isn't looking, lol! Oh well, you can clearly see the jelly on the spoon :-)

Here's a pic of how it jelled in the pan as the leftover bit cooled :-)

 So, I poured the jelly into a pint-sized jar, and it almost over-filled it. However, I scraped the foam off the top, and was left with exactly a pint - according to the line on the jar, lol!

 And lastly, here's a pic of the very end product, after I'd set it in the fridge to cool overnight :-D

Wait just a minute!!! Y'all want a pic of how it looks on bread, right? Hang on, I'll go get one :-)

One more second, I'm uploading and resizing the pic...

Aha! And here it is :-D And FYI, yes, it tastes really good, lol!

Lastly, if you make your own, please comment back to let me know how it went :-)
Thank you, and have a happy day!

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