Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grape Jelly

Even though we all enjoyed last week's farmer's market grapes, I bought too many (which I do a lot) and mid week I ended up with a lot of overripe grapes that were in danger of turning. I wasn't about to throw them out, so I decided to make grape jelly. I have never made jelly, so I wasn't sure if I had enough grapes to even make any jelly. I thought I would end up with a couple of tablespoons at most. Oh well, it was worth the shot just for the experience.

I went online and found massive recipes requiring 5 or 6 pounds of grapes. Some requested a mix of overripe grapes and new young grapes because young grapes have more pectin. Almost all the recipes used one cup of sugar to every cup of juice, which means that the resulting jelly would be probably twice as sweet as simple syrup. Scary. Now that we are eating more unsweetened things and less foods that are even naturally sweet other than whole fruits, really sugary items practically hurt my teeth.

I also have an issue with all the jam recipes for every fruit that I find online. They all seem to request three times as much sugar than they need and they call for pectin. That annoys me. It is not like the early Americans walked to the dry goods store to squander their money on sugar, and it is also not likely that the local dry goods store had little packets of pectin for sale. Yet a tradition of preserving fruit flourished all the same.

I say to hell with all the modern conveniences like powdered pectin. There is an easier way. Apples.

Apples are virtually flavorless when added to jams. The flesh disintegrates when over cooked. And they are natural little pectin bombs. Pectin is of course the natural substance that thickens jam and makes jelly, well....gel-y.
I took one quart of grapes and washed them and removed the stems and leaves. I put them into a large dutch oven with a little water (you don't really need the water, but I had so few grapes that they would have evaporated and dried up before they had cooked long enough. If you have 5-6 pounds of grapes, you'll have so much juice that this won't be an issue). And I added one diced apple, skins on and everything. Thing 1 went to town on the fruit with a potato masher and then I let the fruit boil until the grape skins came off and the apples started to fall apart. Then I let it cook maybe 5 minutes more.

I strained the fruit and juice. I lined a strainer with an old thin burp cloth I have that is a little thicker than cheese cloth, but it's pretty close. When you just have the juice, put it back on to boil and you can throw out the skins and pulp. Let the water boil out until it gets thick and viscous and the bubbles get slower and thicker. Then add the sugar. I had only about a cup of juice left after boiling it away. I wanted to include a reduced amount of sugar, so I added a half a cup of. After tasting the finished jelly, the juice was soooooo sweet itself I probably only needed a quarter of a cup, actually I probably didn't need any but I was nervous. I boiled the sugar juice mixture just a little longer and then took it off and poured it into a glass jam jar. Then I held my breath. The whole process took me about 45 minutes.

I put Thing 1 to bed, and the jelly was cool but it wasn't so gelled. I thought all was lost. So I put the jar into the fridge and went to bed thinking, if it doesn't gel up we can always just pour the syrup over ice cream or into seltzer for grape soda, or even make a cocktail from it!

When I woke up the next morning I went to the fridge before any of the kids woke up. And to my surprise, the jelly was wiggly and looked runny, but when I went to spoon some out, it had totally JELLED! Admittedly I needed to have boiled it some more so that it didn't come out runny but it was good. Next time I will boil it more and add less sugar. But this was super easy and required little more than basic kitchen utensils and some know how. No crazy canning equipment, no store bought pectin. Maybe next time I'll try it with honey and no sugar for a super natural treat.


  1. So can you use apples in place of pectin for any type of jelly you make? What if I wanted to make raspberry jam? Could I use apples then?

  2. I have never bought commercial pectin even though I have made jam a half a dozen times or so. When I made strawberry jam a few months ago I used apples, but I peeled them. I knew I was throwing away the meat during this jelly recipe, so I didn't bother.

    I think you shouldn't have to buy pectin. It just make the process a little more difficult in my opinion! Jam is super easy too because unlike jelly where you really are turning a total liquid into a gel, jam will get thick and syrupy regardless of the pectin as you cook it down. I still think the apple makes it better, it is a good inexpensive "stretcher" and it totally natural and non processed.

  3. I'm so excited to have met you today, one. But two, your post about jelly is perfectly timed. TOMORROW, I have a double date planned - a playdate for the kiddos while the mommies make peach ginger jam. I actually bought pectin at the store today, because...well, I didn't know any better. I've made jam before, ages ago with my mom. Couldn't recall pectin, but the thought of a flopped attempt with these beautiful peaches all lined up on my kitchen table made me think these online recipes I found knew better than mom.

    Fingers crossed our jam-inspired-by-an-outrageously-overpriced-one-from-Whole-Foods turns out jam-y! 'Cause I ain't paying no $11 for the tiniest jar of jam I ever did see, even if it was the best jam I've ever had in my life jam! As my 3 year old says all the time, "I can do it myself!"