I've had it in my mind that I want to make wild grape jelly for years. My woodsy neighborhood has lots of wild grape vines, and I have used the leaves over the years when I make pickles. I can remember beck when my son was in middle school and I was a cabin counselor for 7th grade camp out at Camp Storer in the Irish Hills, waiting on horseback for my group next to a huge stand of wild grapes right at eye level and thinking "When I get home, I am going to make wild grape jelly!". And here it is, 5 years later and my son is a high school senior and I still haven't made any. A few weekends ago, when I was on my weekend jog through the neighborhood, I noticed that the vines were heavy with fruit, so I vowed that I would do it this year.
Supposedly, it can be a challenge for some people to identify wild grapes instead of the poisonous moonseed or Virginia Creeper, but I don't think it is all that difficult. I don't think I've ever seen moonseed, but we have plenty of Virginia Creeper around here. For more info, read this blog post here. I picked about 3 pounds of grapes last weekend, and then I consulted my trusty The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Linda Ziedrich said that the wild grapes that she has in her Pacific Northwest backyard didn't make good jelly, but most varieties would. I wasn't sure what kind we have, but I decided to give it a shot. I looked around on the internet, and most of the wild grape jelly recipes had boxed pectin in them, but Linda said that it shouldn't be needed, but recommended adding some apple for extra insurance. Since their was a couple crab apple trees right next to the grape vines, I decided I'd add some of those instead.
Wild grapes, unlike domestic grapes, are high in tartaric acid (from which cream of tartar is produced), will form crystals in the jelly so you need to let it settle out overnight before making your jelly. After cooking down the grapes, strain out the juice and let it sit in a container in the fridge. I actually let mine sit for a week because I couldn't get around to making the jelly anytime during this busy week. I let it pass through the jelly bag yesterday afternoon and it left a ton of sludge in the bag. Who knew? If you eat a lot of wild grapes raw, this stuff is what makes your mouth feel dry and cottony.
Wild Grape Jelly
makes 3-4 half pints
3 lb. wild grapes, stems and all
1 c. crab apples, halved, (cut of stems and blossom ends, but leave the seeds in)
Heat grapes and apples in a large pot until boiling, mashing as you go with a potato masher. Boil for 15 minutes. Strain and let remaining juice settle overnight. The next day, strain juice through a damp jelly bag for 2-3 hours. Add:
3 c. sugar
Heat juice and sugar in a large pot (I like to use an enameled cast iron dutch oven to make jams and jellies) until the jelly reaches the gel temp of 220F. Since I live below 1000 ft elevation, water boils at 212F and gel temp = boiling point of water+8 F. If you live at higher elevation, your gel temp will be different. Speaking of temperature, After trying many different cooking thermometers, I have figured out that the Thermapen instant read thermometer is the best for jam and jelly making and candy. Yes, it will set you back about $100, but it's the last one you will ever need to buy. I've spent more than that on a pile of cheaper ones that broke or didn't stay calibrated. Learn from my sad tale and invest in the best one to start!
Pour jelly into clean hot jars and leave 1/2 inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
I was a little nervous because it didn't appear to be setting up yesterday, and so I was envisioning having some jars of grape syrup instead of jam, but when I checked it this morning, it was set! Sometimes natural jellies (no boxed pectin) take longer to set up - up to a week!
Since I have read that wild grapes can continue to be harvested until after the frost, I can probably make some more jars every weekend when I have time. It will make great Christmas gifts!