Grapes on a vine

It's Saturday, September 24th, and it's the perfect early Fall day. Sunny and warm with just a slight crispness in the air. It is, or was, the perfect day to head out and do a bit of grape picking, so the wife, the kid and I jumped into the car and drove down to the Madison area-Cottage Grove to be exact-to visit Door Creek Orchard where we knew we'd be able to get out in the vineyard and pick our own grapes. My wife and I discovered Door Creek Orchard a number of years ago and had a great time picking Fall raspberries, apples and grapes. We hadn't been back for awhile as we wanted to explore other pick-your-own farms around the state but decided it was time to head back. We were disappointed to read that they were giving up the raspberry business due to an invasive species of insect that they couldn't control without the use of insecticide, but I applaud them for sticking to their principles and not using chemicals on their fruits, besides we were there for grapes. In addition to all the different apple varieties they have, both pick-your-own and prepicked, they have number of different grapes that they grow and harvest. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the vineyard had been pretty well picked over of all varieties except for Concord. The good news is that Concords were what we were after. We grabbed a bag, a pair of pruners and headed up the hill to the vineyard. Gigi was excited and couldn't wait to try her hand a picking grapes.

Young girl picking grapes

In past years we have picked way too many grapes and had a hard time making use of them all before they started to go bad and attract swarms of fruit flies. This year we kept things more manageable, picking only about 11-12 pounds. In hind sight, we probably should have picked a few more (I'm only getting 1 Concord Grape Pie out of this), but I guess it is better to have a few less and give others a chance to pick than waste a bunch of them. As it was, a number of people commented, on our way back to the barn to weigh our haul, about what we were going to do with all the grapes. I told them that we had plans for each and every grape picked. And sure enough we used up every last one. After cleaning the grapes and removing the stems we probably had about 8-9 pounds.

Picked grapes in bowl

This amount gave us 1 pie, 2 batches of grape jelly, and just enough left over for me to attempt a small batch of Grape Shrub (or Drinking Vinegar) a colonial drink, with a history dating back to Rome. More on that, in a future post, as it will be a week or so before I know how it turns out.

By far, the biggest use for the grapes is grape jelly. My wife is not a big fan of grape jelly, or more specifically, she wasn't until she tried her first batch of homemade grape jelly. Now, every year, starting in August she reminds me that we need to go grape picking so that she can put up enough grape jelly for the coming year. And the way she and my daughter go through the stuff, I don't know that 2 batches will make enough to get us through!!!

In past years my wife has used "Certo" brand pectin. This year I couldn't find it at the store I was at so I picked up a fruit pectin produced by "Ball" the makers of canning jars, and we followed the recipe that they had.

Grape Jelly
adapted from the recipe pamphlet included with "Ball" Fruit Pectin
makes 7-8 half pints

3 1/3-4 pounds Concord grapes
1/2 cup Water
6 2/3 cups Sugar, granulated
1 3oz pouch Fruit Pectin, liquid

Wash and sterilize 8 half pint canning jars and lids. Remove stems from the grapes and in a non-reactive pot crush the grapes. Add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. Strain the liquid through cheesecloth or a jelly bag. You can use just a strainer, but you will end up with a semi-cloudy jelly instead of a clear jewel like jelly. It won't affect the taste at all so if you don't mind your jelly not being clear, a strainer is fine. After the liquid has drained measure out 4 cups of the juice. Meanwhile prepare a waterbath for processing your jelly, if you want to be able to can it and store it long term. Combine the juice with the sugar and bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Add the pectin, return to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any foam that may have developed.

Ladle jelly into sterilized jars, leaving approximately 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe the rims and top with the lids. Apply the rings but only tighten slightly. Place jars into boiling waterbath ensuring that the water covers the jars by 1-2 inches. Return to a boil. Once the water has started boiling again process the jars for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow jars to remain in the bath for 5 minutes longer. Remove from water and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature and check the lids for a proper seal (the center of the lid should not have any give in it. Store any jar, that did not properly seal, in the fridge. The rest can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.