Continuing on a theme this year, I made grape jelly in early October. Mid-summer, I sought Concord Grapes from local sources, knowing they would be ready in Fall. I waited for them to be at their peak, then had a lovely morning drive to Catoctin Mountain Orchard to buy a half bushel of lovely Blue Concords. It was a delight to be in true farm country and to purchase the fresh cider, fruits, pies, and other such treats that they had for sale. They clearly have some of the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, based on the styles and types of baked goods. This makes me very happy, indeed.
After lugging my grapes home, I then set about making first juice, then jelly. It was a long, grueling day, and I hope you find the story and pictures interesting.
I first made grape jelly back when I lived in Colorado. A coworker had some Concords growing, and was complaining about her back, so I offered to help harvest if I could take some. She offered to lend me her borrowed steam juicer to make the job easier, and I took her up on her kind offer. It was an amazing day, the first time my house was filled with utter grape-i-ness. My first batch didn’t set, and since I had so many grapes, I made a second, then a third, and they turned out much better. We enjoyed it and gave it as presents and a couple of years later, I made a second batch.
That was six years ago, and we’ve been jonesing for more since our last jar ran out a few years ago. A toasted piece of wheat bread with a bit of butter, peanut butter, and this jelly is a wonderful, quick breakfast or snack when you’re feeling a bit funky from hunger, allergies, or stress. The difference in flavor between home-canned jelly like this and store-bought is astounding; how they manage to remove so much of the flavor and nuance is beyond me. The one downside is the large amount of sugar.
Step One: Steam Juicer
A steam juicer is a large kettle with three sections and a hollow column in the middle to carry steam from the bottom water pan up to the top section where the fruit is. The juice drips into the middle section which has a reservoir to collect the juice as well as a tube to drain it. Using one, you never need to strain for seeds or such undesirable matter, so it is a great tool. When making jellies the traditional way, there’s lots of straining and effort to ensure a seedless product. With a steam juicer, you just toss in fruit, cover it, and bring the water to a boil; the steam reduces the fruit, leaving seeds, stems, and tougher bits of the skin behind. I bought one once I moved back East, and this was the first time I’ve had the chance to use it here. I’m so glad I did. I expect I’ll be making some fresh Guava and other tropical juices to perk up this winter because it is so easy and fresh juice is amazing.
So the general process is to rinse off the grapes, stuff them into the top section of the juicer, then to bring the water to a boil. As the juice is released, you drain it into a pot or pitcher and you keep topping-off the grapes.
As you can see in the picture above, the bottom section has water, the middle collects the juice and has an outlet and tube to drain it, and the top holds the grapes. The lid keeps the steam in.
The whole juice making process took about 2 1/2 hours, but that’s because I was not as much of a hawk on the heat as I should have been so there were slow periods. Normally, it should have been about 1 1/2- 2 hours.
The juice starts flowing and the tube gets hot, so you quickly find a way to rig the pot and tube. Once this was full, I dumped most of it into my pot and began the first double-batch of the jelly to make use of the already-hot juice. I’m sure rush hour drivers and pedestrians loved smelling the intense grape smell I was blowing out front; I’m sure most have never smelled such a thing, but those who have likely had a nice flash of childhood or other precious memories, smells are like that.
After steaming for a bit, grapes begin to lose their innards and look like this. There’s lots more to steam out of them, so I topped them off and put the cover back on. Once the final batch was past this point, I tried to be patient, but I realized that I had so many, I didn’t need to cook down the last set. I threw away lots of good grape pulp, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Regrettably, I don’t currently compost, so this was truly wasted.
The second pot is almost full! I got almost three pots of juice, about 6 gallons in total. The large metal pot on the right is the first double-batch of the jelly. I had the jars in the dishwasher, clean and warm, and had lids ready. Not two minutes after I was done collecting juice, I had the canning water bath pot on the stove, with warm water in it and getting full-blast on the big burner so I transferred the jelly to the where the grapes are, stirring it gently as the sugar melted thoroughly and the temperature approach boiling. Once I had a good boil, I reduced the heat a bit, mixed in the pectin and began to stir and mix like crazy, trying to ensure that all bit of pectin spread throughout the jelly. One peril of making double (or triple or more!) batches is that the pectin doesn’t mix evenly and so you get lots of jars that don’t set. My results from this session were that my jelly flows a bit, so it spreads like a dream yet clings to the bread. Not perfect, but quite acceptable, it does its job suitably.
This was the final grape goo in the bottom of the pan, I was still squeezing it a bit to harvest some of the delicious juice, but threw away a lot, like I mentioned above. We have been drinking a lot of this grape juice. It is crazy intense and bursting with vitamins. I’ve since learned that you can take fresh hot juice, put it in a hot, clean canning jar, put the hot lid and ring on it, then flip it over and leave it upside down for an hour to do a simple canning trick that keeps your juice fresh for months without needing to do the full hot-water-canner treatment.
This is the second batch of jelly beginning to heat up – look at that color! Once I had grape juice, I measured the correct amount, added sugar, and pectin and brought it to a boil and canned it in a water bath canner. Then I made this second batch, again being very careful to mix it like crazy after adding the pectin. Next time, I will try using the sugar-free recipe pectin and try reducing the sugar from 7 to 5 cups. I don’t want even that much sugar, but I hate artificial sweeteners and things like stevia don’t taste or feel right for me. So sugar it is.
The final result – look at that gorgeous color! It’s crazy how purple that juice and resulting jelly are! And so tangy, yum yum yum. It is a tiny bit runny, but since most uses involve spreading, that’s OK – it isn’t watery, and spreads and holds nicely on bread. I find lots of store-bought jelly too-set so it tends to clump and stick to the knife, fling off on to the table or plate, etc. My product is better, I figure.
My total jelly haul – I had gallons of juice on top of this. I made two double-batches and eagle-eyed readers may notice two pint jars on the left that ended up almost exactly the same – 60% full. One from each batch. Now that’s precision – accidental, I assure you! These will be Christmas gifts and lots of leftovers for us. Perhaps some meatballs will be made around the holidays, that’s always a good use for surplus grape jelly. I’ll send families with younger children an extra jar or two. Combined with my ginger peach preserves, I’m giving a lot of yum (and yes, sugar…) to folks this year!
This is my label. It was originally a joke in 2011 referring to the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse silliness and zombies were beginning to really take off (again), so… presto! But with the shitheads in charge of so many countries these days, who knows, perhaps it’s time to trademark it and go national as a niche/upscale survival food brand.
I hope you enjoyed this, have a wonderful day and week!
Definitely grueling, but such a reward!
Dorothy A. Winsor
It looks and sounds wonderful. What a great Christmas gift.
What do you do with the juice? Does it ferment?
@Dorothy A. Winsor: I like grape juice and this is low-sugar, so it’s very healthy. Besides that, yeah, lots of folks make wine. I have an unopened jar (not well-sealed) in the fridge and I think I might try to make something with it, like a sauce. Without children, things like sweets or frozen treats are less interesting, and I’d just as soon buy my wine lol
@Alain: I just found a nice recipe for seared duck breast with grape sauce. That sounds like a plan for next weekend – I know I can get a single duck breast at Wegmans so I won’t have to get a whole duck (that’s Christmas!).
It all looks so good.
I’ve used the no/low-sugar pectin when making very small batches of blueberry jam. I cut the sugar in the last batch from 1.5 to .5 cups (to 3 cups of berries), and it set up just fine.
This was delightful. And might get onto my top ten post title list. :)
Steam juicer is one of my favorites.
Any juice can be canned safely, quickly, and simply. Just fill directly from the hot steamer into sterile jars, place lid, and leave to cool.
I like using the late season tomato glut to make a clear amber juice, which is what yields if you don’t stir the fruit in the hopper. Can in pints and half pints and use in soups and sauces, for an amazing tomato flavor without the color and texture.
You could just toss some ale yeast into your juice and let it sit in a cool place (50-60 degrees) for a week. That would make a lovely grape spritzer and you can drink it without the bother of bottling. That approach is along the lines of the Lazy Girl Cider I shared on here a few years ago — no racking, no bottling, just fun. By chance, did anyone reading this morning try that, and how were the results, I wonder? I just made another batch last week and it turned out quite pleasant.
@Alain: I really like that steamer thing. Cooking and straining is so labor intensive.
Trump on TV bragging about finally killing al-Baghdadi and repeating himself while demonstrating his limited vocabulary. The best line – “they’re very sophisticated in using the Internet, almost as sophisticated as Me.”
It’s appropriate how Balloon Juice has turned into the “canning for the End Times” blog in 2019.
In case you’ve got one, no pectin blueberry jam in the Instant Pot.
Dorothy A. Winsor
@Uncle Jeffy: You have to be making that up.
My brother lives in Reston and his daughter and her family live in Loudon Co. Catoctin Mt. Orchards sounds like a nice destination for us the next time I’m out.
Your jelly photos are very impressive – great looking product, and you are a very tidy cook.
(Sent from a power outage area in NorCal)
Was at the orchard yesterday. They supply the county school system with fresh apples.
@Uncle Jeffy: he also said this was bigger than getting OBL.
A friend got a steam juicer years ago. When there was a short period of ‘cheap’ raspberries, he made jelly. Wow. Sooo yummy!
He did say there was some learning involved. His first batch too much water condensed from the steam and made the juice kind of thin. It sounds like that isn’t an issue with the grapes? Or maybe it was his particular device, which looked a bit different (as I recall, it had a spout on the side that dispensed the juice, not a hose, so it was also more of a steam port?)
Relatedly, I remember getting lost some years ago, crossing far northern Indiana, and ending up on a two-lane just into Michigan in September, when the local grapes must have been at peak ripeness. The smell from the fields was divine! But all the farm stands were closed for the night, it was late dusk and we though ringing a doorbell might be ill advised. So no grapes for us. :(
@DivF: Not to be too much of a downer, but holy cow. I fired up twitters before getting the coffee on, and was immediately seeing things about 90 mph winds at 2,500 ft in the mountains, and evacuation orders all the way to the Pacific. (I’m far from there in MN, but have friends in the region.)
Just horrific. It seems the fire isn’t that far from the 2015 one that swept over a favorite spot of mine: Harbin Hot Springs. Seems the winds don’t put them at risk again, it took such a long time to rebuild and reopen.
@Quinerly: I’m surprised he didn’t say it was bigger than getting Hitler. That he was going to diminish an Obama accomplishment was a given. Of course most people are like “Abu who?”. And also have in the back of their mind that a replacement will be there soon, just like when the US killed about 20 “Al Qaeda #3”.
@Calouste: give him time re Hitler. He is still running his mouth.
@Quinerly: He finally quit.
What a horrible, stupid, disgusting man.
It’s good that Baghdadi is dead, but turning it into a “me, me, me” horror pr0n event is disgusting and dangerous.
What an interesting process, thank you for the pics and instructions! I’m jealous of all you folks who have counter space.
Ugh. I’ll try to write something, although I still have breakfast to make and the kitties to walk.
I grew up in northeastern Ohio, where there are quite a few wineries, and you can smell the grapes in the fall while just driving down certain roads near the vineyards. My Italian grandpa had a small arbor, and he and my uncles used to make wine from the grapes. They called their product D*** Red.
Concords are the definition, the ultimate, the pinnacle, the apotheosis of grapes. I had a vine or two of my own once a long time ago, when I lived outside Boston, but the growing season is too short for them where I live now. Lucky for me — the grocery store stocks them for a few weeks in the fall, shipped in (usually) from Michigan. I gobble them for a short while….then they’re gone until next year.
I rarely eat jellies and jams, but if I do, Concord Grape Jelly is my choice. Go Alain!
My “favorite” bits were the ones where he said that he would broker a deal with Exxon to take Libya’s oil and the really scary part where he literally defended ethnic cleansing of Syria.
The Turkish invasion was good because before that, the Kurds didn’t want to leave their homes but it was so bloody that they agreed to “move 7 miles away.” He threw it in the middle of other scary comments so people missed it.
Yummy. This was the off-season for my vines. They have the sweetest concords and red grapes. I will miss them when I move.
Hope someone can figure out why that laptop’s keyboard is covered with pages from what seems to be a PowerPoint presentation.
Der Scheißgibbon turns everything into a “me, me, me” horror pr0n event.
@Zzyzx: Yeah… Twitter:
He lies about everything, so we can’t take his words at face value, but everything he does is always in service of Himself and his hangers-on.
TheGuardian – It’s not stealing, we’re reimbursing ourselves (from 2016).
Yeah, they’re really great with the internet! That made me LoL, it was so bad.
Kay (not the front-pager)
Catoctin Mountain Orchard is my go-to for apples and pears, but I didn’t know about the concord grapes. It’s a bit of a hike, so I only get up there about once a year. I guess I need to be more cognizant of their offerings. Homemade grape jelly sounds fabulous! That steam juicer looks like a clever invention. I can see it being useful for other difficult fruit, like quince. I wonder what the cats would make of the juice pot down close to the floor. Would have to find a way to keep their noses out of it, as well as the dog’s.
If you have a ginger bug going grape juice makes really delicious grape soda. It does use a lot of sugar, but supposedly the bacteria in the ginger bug eat a lot of the sugar so it’s all good. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.
I made Concord grape pie for the first time this year. So grapey! The family really loved it, and the smelled so… purple!
I made concord jelly for years, there is nothing like it. We also had some pink catawba grapes that were not sweet enough to eat but made a really pretty and good tasting jelly.
I like to spread it on hot stone ground cornbread that the butter has melted through.
Why am I just now finding out about these steam juicers.
Will it work on the small wild sand plums? That is another jelly that you cannot buy.
It’s only about 15 min north of me, so we go there a lot. They do have a lot of nice stuff. There are a couple of other very nice orchards in the Thurmont area, but they tend to have a little less selection and aren’t right on Rt 15. Right across 15 from Catocin Mt. Orchards is the Catoctin Breeze Winery. They have some very nice wines. Their Cab Franc, Chardonnay, and Vidal Blanc are usually very high quality.
@TaMara (HFG): You’re moving again?!? Didn’t you just move a couple of years ago?
@NotMax: Nope, no Instant Pot. Everyone I know has one, but I can’t justify it given how I cook.
The recipe I use is the one for Blueberry Earl Grey Jam from the ATK Foolproof Preserving Cookbook. It’s done in less than an hour. This time, instead of the tea I added a couple of tablespoons of Chambord. The berries weren’t the best, so the raspberry flavor really came through.
I know some folks prefer to not use pectin, but I don’t mind it. For me, it’s more important to cut back as much as possible on the sugar. I’ve just about reached the point where store-bought (and even some homemade) jams are just too sweet.
I have always meant to make jelly with some of the grapes I have, but haven’t quite got around to it yet. You are so right that the taste and smell of fresh grape juice is unbelievably great. One thing my wife thought of to do with the leavings from wine making is to make a sorbet. When you make white wine, the grapes are crushed right after harvest and pressed almost immediately. The pressed juice is put in a carboy and left to settle. You rack the clean juice off the top and are left with a bunch of grape solids and other bits. I had just been throwing these leavings on the compost pile. My wife thought to throw it in an ice cream maker and it makes an absolutely wonderful sorbet. Wine grapes tend to be a bit more acidic and sweet than table grapes so there is a really refreshing balance with a nice flavor intensity.
My aunt Maxine had blackberry bushes in her yard and made jelly every year for Christmas presents. It was a family tradition to get together and get your jelly jar. She’s getting close to 100 now but moved to a care home, so no more jelly. I still get a birthday card from her.
@Kay (not the front-pager):
We end up going to Catoctin Mountain Orchard once or twice a year – it’s on the way back on a regular trip. The last time we were there was last weekend.
The pies are really good. Really good. And they have a great variety of apples.
Sounds like we could have a Balloon Juice meet-up at Catoctin Mountain Orchard. Of course I would move that we then adjourn to Catoctin Breeze Winery.
J R in WV
My grandma had a going tiny farm to raise her kids. By the time I came along, the livestock were long gone, and the big garden was mostly just a little plot of tomatoes and beans.
But the grape arbor was going great, as was the small apple orchard.
J R in WV
Have you ever thought about using another sweeter fruit with the grapes instead of white sugar? Like slice up some sweet apples into the grape mash?
They wouldn’t overwhelm the grapeiness of the jelly, but would add a lot of sweet depth to it. A memory from grandma’s little farm, she didn’t use white sugar at all if possible, she had to buy that, apples were free for the pruning and spraying. She told stories of selling big batches of bag corn to local farmers along with 50 lb sacks of sugar, and the Revenue Agents asking who bought all that corn and sugar, and telling them “I’m sure I don’t know, we have so many customers off the farms who need to feed their pigs!”
@J R in WV: Some drunkass, well-fed hogs.
@J R in WV: Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll see what I can do next Fall!
I enjoyed reading your article. I make grape jelly too and also use a steam juicer. Here’s a tip. Boil the juice with the pectin before adding the sugar. Your jelly will set every time.