September 22, 2008

The nitty gritty of making grape jelly

Though it may look like one, this is not your standard PB&J. This is a sandwich with hours of work behind it. The bread is 100% whole wheat from a King Arthur recipe. The butter is organic cashew butter. And the jelly is from Concord grapes growing on chain-link in a suburban garden outside of Detroit, Michigan.

My father in law (Papou, Greek for grandpa) has a prolific garden that he kindly shares. The first fruit of the fall that comes in abundance is his Concord grapes. The grape vines cover the entire back side of their fenced yard. I've skipped making jelly for a few years and instead just made a few small batches of juice but after reading about Pomona's Pectin on Modern Beet I decided it was time to get back on the jelly wagon. Pomona's Pectin is a citrus-derived pectin that uses calcium to jell eliminating the need for excessive sugar. I had to give it a try.

Alex and I got busy picking one sunny afternoon and picked 24lbs of Papou's grapes. Yes, you read that correctly: 24 pounds! I cleaned up my kitchen, scrubbing down the sink and started a juice making assembly line. Grapes get washed in copious amounts of water, drain, stems are removed, they're weighed out (3.5 lbs of grapes + 1/2 cup water for each batch), smashed, brought to a boil, simmered 10 minutes, and then strained. For years I have done the straining with layers of cheesecloth but smartly decided that this was the year to buy the jelly bag and holder. Thank goodness I did! It made an onerous task a lot easier. After straining, I filled the sink with ice water to speed chill the juice. This is the same method you would use if you were cooling off a large batch of hot stock. You set the pot of juice into the ice water and stir until it is cool. The chilled juice went into the fridge to settle. Grape juice has a large amount of tartaric acid. It's where they get cream of tartar. Overnight crystals of tartaric acid form and they will make for crunchy jelly and juice if you don't strain them off. Ideally it should set for 24-48 hours but I had the Epicurean Classic to go to.

The next day I followed Pomona's recipe for honey-sweetened jelly using local star thistle honey. I also made a low sugar batch. Pomona's low sugar recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar per 4 cups of juice maximum, Sur-jel and Certo recipes are both 7 cups!! I also canned (IE bottled in a jar) plain juice. The most interesting experiment for me was an attempt at making Concord grape kombucha. I started drinking GT's Kombucha over a year ago and got John hooked on it too. I've been reading Wild Fermentation, a book about cultured foods, and I wanted to try growing my own kombucha mushroom. I threw a bottle of GT's Kombucha into a large jug of juice. It did ferment nicely but doesn't seem to be forming a mushroom/mother. I guess I'm going to have to buy one online. I've been drinking it watered down over ice and it's wonderful!

To see more of the process scroll through the pictures I took. For the record my 24lbs of grapes equaled 9 quarts of juice with 7.5 pounds of must (skins and seeds) and 1.5 pounds of stems. Recipes for the jelly can be found at Pomona's Pectin. I used the directions from Pick your own for the canned juice. My go-to recipe for whole wheat bread is from King Arthur Flour. My advice if you want to play with Concord grapes: wear gloves and clothes you'd paint in. Your mom was right not to let you drink the stuff on the carpet.
My son Alex picking Concord grapes Mashed grapes ready to cook
The leftovers, they make your compost smell great
Straining the seeds and skins from the juice
The tartaric acid crystals clinging to the pot,
they are beautiful with a refractive quality like mica
Polishing the juice to remove as many crystals as possible
Sleeping Bear Farms star thistle honey, calcium water
and the honey mixed with the Pomona's Pectin
The finished jars, more juice was in the fridge
and on the counter becoming kombucha Abbie thought this was a very dull bit of cooking.
She napped on my chair the entire time.
More to come from Papou's garden, the quince will be ripe in a couple more weeks!!
Please share any quince recipes you have.


Chez Asima said...

Wow! This looks delicious...can I order a jar plz? I'm salivating for a yummy pb jelly sandwich

Abbie is gorgeous! ;-)

VeggieGirl said...

Oooh, I LOVE how the cashew butter and jelly are OOZING out of the sandwich, in the first photograph - yum!!

Your father-in-law sounds great, sharing those recipes!!

Abbie is too cute!! I always enjoy seeing her photographs :0)

Adam said...

Not to take away from your grape making, but cashew butter is sooo much better than PB.

Wow, that was a ton of work you did, but it looks like it totally paid off. The grapes have a beautiful color, and there's just something special about homemade jelly :)

How long does it take to pick 24 lbs? I'm guessing quite a while

doggybloggy said...

Hoochie rama....ambitious much? wow on a good day I dont try and make jelly....

Jennifer said...

Wow, that is intense! The jars of jam look amazing though :) You're way more ambitious than I've been so far...but very motivating!


Maria said...

Nice work! I want a classic PB and J now!!

Maggie said...

Chez Asima: Thanks!

VeggieGirl: It was hard to resist the oozing long enough to take the picture.

Adam: Cashew butter is way better. I really like Sunbutter too. It took a little more than 1/2 hour to pick the grapes. They were really loaded on the vines this year.

doggybloggy: I love preserving, it's exhausting but incredibly satisfying when it's all done.

Jennifer: Thanks, you can always start easy with a single small batch of preserves but watch out it's addictive.

Maria: Thanks! said...

I think that is a little much for me to jump into, but it is interesting to see what it take to make it happen. thanks for the process


shellyfish said...

I didn't realize grapes could grow in Detroit! Who knew? That is so cool. I made my first jams ever this past summer and totally loved the experience, though it was a lot of work, it was so fulfilling!

farida said...

Great tutorial! I bet it was fun picking those grapes!

jkru said...

I never knew that you could grow grapes in metro Detroit. Also, I love star thistle honey! I have some that was made in Sutton's Bay that I've taken with me from Michigan to Texas. I've actually been looking for Michigan-based food blogs and I'm glad that I found yours!

Alex Rushmer said...

Now that is one perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Exellent work

Shayne said...

I love concords but I have never tried making juice or jelly out of them before. I just eat em

Kim said...

I have never had the pleasure of homemade Grape Jelly. What a shame as it looks absolutely wonderful. What a fun day you had!

Maggie said... I happy to provide the vicarious experience.

shellyfish: We're hoping to transplant some of his vines up north since the Traverse City area is so good for grapes.

farida: The picking is a lot of fun.

jkru: The honey I used is from Beulah, MI which is south west of Sutton's Bay. You can find my list of Michigan foodblogs on

Alex Rushmer: Thanks!

Shayne: My son and husband didn't really help me pick. They just walk around eating and spitting seeds.

Kim: Thanks, it's messy but a different breed of jelly from the stuff you get in the store.

Joelen said...

So inspiring... and I wouldn't have thought to make my own grape jelly! What a fun thing to make and I especially like how much it yields. I'm sure it makes for great gift giving with the holidays around the corner too!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

Wow, that's a lot of grapes! It looks like you put it to good use though and I never would have known the bit about tartaric crystals and would probably have made a disappointing jar of jelly. That must have been the best pb&j ever! ;-)

Maggie said...

Joelen: I never would have made grape jelly either but when you have access to all those free grapes (organically grown too) it's hard to resist picking every last one to use.

Mike of Mike's Table: The crystals falling out of the solution does seem really strange at first but it at least makes it so you can't kill yourself trying to do the whole process all in one night.

once in a blue moon... said...

wonderful pictorial~

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Zolletta said...

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