I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, in Hickory, but for some reason I never tasted a Muscadine until my recent move to Polk County. Now when i’m hiking or driving I notice that these things are everywhere! Living on an Americorps budget makes free food from nature very, very exciting. Last weekend on a crisp Sunday morning I harvested seven and half pounds of these grapes from a wild vine by my house. I was so excited, but then I realized, what do I do with these???
The answer: Jelly
My first attempts at jelly were successful, I followed all the steps of boiling the jars, adding the pectin, etc. etc. But I realized I could of saved myself some time and effort, after helping process 46 more jars for the upcoming Friends of Agriculture Breakfast. So, for those of you out there who have not made jelly, or given the wonderful Muscodine a chance, i’m dedicating this blog one of my new favorite hobbies: Making Jelly!
Step One: Harvest Your Grapes
You want to pick grapes that fall easily off the vine. When it comes to making jelly, the softer the better. For a small batch you are going to need about 3.5 to 5 pounds, it’s better to have too many than not enough, because you can always save the juice, which is really tasty. Make sure you wash the grapes before you begin to make the jelly. You don’t really need to worry about taking off the stems, unless you’re a perfectionist, the juice will be strained to keep out the seeds, skins, and stems.
Step Two: Prepare Your Jars
First fill a canning pot halfway with clean water, enough to cover the jars with 1-2 inches of water, and get it started to boil. While waiting for the water to boil, wash all your jars with soap and hot water. You can also place them in the dishwasher if you would like. After the jars are washed and the water is boiling, place the jars in the pot and let them sanitize for ten minutes. When they are done, take jar grabbers and place the jars top-side down on a clean rag and out of the way. This way bacteria won’t fall into the jars. Some people place them in an oven, top-side down, at about 170* until they are ready to use them, but the hot sugar works as a preserver, so this really isn’t necessary. You will also want to boil your lids. You can re-use rings, but never lids. These can be left in the hot water until you’re ready to use them.
Step Three: Prepare Your Grapes!
warning…this is the longest part of the process
Boil the washed grapes in water until the skin just begins to split, this helps you extract the juice and pulp. Another way to tell they’re ready is if the grapes begin to float. Once the grapes are boiled you have several options, some will mash the grapes then strain the juices with a cheese cloth, but this seems pretty daunting. There are lots of neat tools out there to utilize! We used a tool that Dawn calls a “Berry Crusher Mill” and her great Aunt called a “Do Hicky.” I looked it up and it is just called an Old Fashioned Food Colander/Strainer.
It looks like this:
This handy tools allows you to grind the grapes to a pulp while the juices fall out into a bowl or pot below. We used a big pot, since we were making a large batch. When I made jelly at home we used a steamer, but I think this method gives you a lot more juice per pound of grapes. If you don’t have one of these, don’t go spending your money, get creative!
Now, you are ready to get cooking!
Step Four: Make Your Jelly
1-1/4 qt. (5 cups) prepared juice (about 3 1/2 lb. fully ripe grapes)
1-1/2 cups water
1 box of pectin (or 6 tablespoons if you have a large jar)
1/2 tsp of butter
7 cups sugar, measured in a separate bowl
*you can use less sugar if you would like, the recipe I used for my jelly at home only used 5 cups of sugar, but it was a more runny consistency.
We used a recipe from Kraft for Concord Jelly: http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/surejell-concord-grape-jelly-60879.aspx
Stir the pectin into the juice in a saucepot. Add the butter; this helps reduce foaming. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon. We transferred our jelly into a metal pitcher to make it easier to pour into the jars.
There are no pictures for this part, because once you get the jelly cooked, you want to move quickly so it doesn’t set before you can it.
Fill the jars to within a 1/4 inch of the tops. Be sure to wipe around the rim to ensure that there is no residue, otherwise they will not seal properly. Once you have put the lid and ring on, flip the jar upside down and leave it alone for at least 1 to 1.5 hours. With jelly/jam you don’t need to process the jars, since the sugar is so hot, it acts as a preserving agent. (However, this is an old process, and may not be considered “food safe”)
If you do want to process the jars, you boil them for 5-10 minutes. 10 minutes is a good safe processing time. Processing simply means, putting the jars back in boiling water after they have had their lids placed on them.
You can flip the jars right side up after about 2 hours, and they should be good to go!
Step 5: Enjoy your jelly!!
These can make great gifts, or can be stored for jelly year-round. What’s great about home-made jellies and jams is that you can avoid all the weird things they put in store-bought; such as high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial food coloring. Additionally you actually save money in the long-run, and it is a great way to involve your kids in a fun after-school activity. (Just be sure you are wearing aprons or clothes you don’t mind getting stained).
So has you interest been peaked?? There are still muscodines to be harvested and jelly to be made, you just have to go out there and do it!
We will be using them to decorate the tables and our plates at our next Friends of Agriculture Breakfast on:
4-H Center in Columbus
*If you’re interested in saving a little money, we also have coupons for pectin at the ag-center, thanks to our Ball Canning Grant. Stop by Mon-Fri 9:00-4:30 to pick some up.
Author: Sydney Klein (AmeriCorps Project Conserve Member at the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development)