Being back in New England has made me relive my gratitude for all this amazing bioregion has to offer, and specifically for the fall! Apple cider, crisp air, squash, and the very beginnings of colorful foliage… Harvesting (especially wild harvesting) is another staple of fall in this diverse and lush ecosystem.
A couple weeks ago, Joe and I discovered some amazing wild grapes growing along a bike path in town and made a mental note to remember the place for a harvest once the grapes were riper. We returned to that place yesterday and gathered a stuffed gallon bag of grape bundles.
We came home and picked them over afterwards, which yielded 3 quarts of berries. According to Euell Gibbons’ wild grape jelly recipe from his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, using a combination of green (unripe) grapes and fully ripe grapes is key.
The next step was to turn the grapes into juice. For every quart of grapes, we added 1/4 cup of water into a pot. We then crushed the grapes with our hands to release their juices. After crushing the grapes, we covered the pot and brought the grapes and water to a boil, then a simmer, for about fifteen minutes. Lastly, we strained the liquid into a couple jars, trying to squeeze out as much of the pulp as possible. The stuffed gallon bag of grape bundles yielded 3 quarts of berries, which yielded 5 and 1/4 cups of juice.
After the 5 and 1/4 cups of juice spent the night in the refrigerator, we finished the jelly-making process today. We poured the juice into a big pot, added equal parts sugar, and brought it to a rolling boil while constantly stirring.
At that point in the jelly-making process, you need to do frequent “jelly tests” to figure out when the jelly is ready to be jarred. This apparently becomes an intuitive process… Euell Gibbons says that when you lift out some of the jelly juice in a spoon, swirl it around to let it cool a bit, then pour the juice in the spoon back into the pot, two drops should bead together and fall off the spoon like a broken sheet of jelly. Joe and I have found that particular method to be really challenging to gauge, so we combined that method with taking a small spoonful of the jelly juice and putting it into the freezer for a few minutes (until it reaches about room temperature). Then we see how jelly-like it feels. The spoon-in-freezer test combined with the other method has proven to work pretty well.
After we determined that the jelly probably boiled enough to the point of ultimately cooling to be real jelly, we poured the molten sugar-liquid into freshly cleaned jars. Immediately after capping the jars, we turned them upside down for a few minutes to ensure that the whole jar would get sanitized. Then we turned the jars right-side-up and waited for the telltale “pop” from each jar lid, which told us the jelly jars were sealed. We’ll see how it tastes soon!