At ground level

A column about LIFE

Grape Jelly 101

It’s hard to believe I’m back to square one, a novice at making jelly. It’s even harder to believe that I wanted to go back to making jelly in the first place. When I saw my grape vine’s bountiful crop, I just couldn’t resist.

A bountiful grape harvest

I was in awe at the grapes that draped this gigantic vine yesterday morning, considering I had hardly watered the vine this summer and the only tending I ever did was to cut the vine down to size to prevent it from crawling up to our windows and on to the roof. I instinctively grabbed a container and began picking the grapes off the vine. A little more than five pounds of grapes filled my container.

I don’t know who planted this grape vine. Even my landlord was surprised to learn he had this grape vine in his yard. It has yielded many grapes since I’ve lived here, but this time, the grapes were overflowing. I’m not even sure what variety of grapes they are. I do know they’re edible and safe to eat. They’re smaller than the ones you buy at the store, not as sweet, and leave a tangy taste in your mouth. I’m guessing they’re wild California grapes.

Then came the dilemma … now that I picked all these grapes, what could I do with them, I wondered. Do I make grape pie or jelly? I yearned for pie, which can taste so delicious, but I’ve only made pie with Concord grapes. These grapes are smaller than Concord grapes, the seeds would be a problem, and I no longer had my sieve. So I set out to make jelly, instead.

It’s been years since I’ve made jelly. I often made apple and plum jelly many years ago, but I have never made grape jelly, especially wild grape jelly. So, today, Google was my friend. I came across a few recipes and timidly set out to try one that received great reviews. After two trips to the store – first for small plastic containers, and then later, when I realized I would actually have enough for several pints of jelly, I went back for the whole shebang – a box of half pint jars with lids and rings, cheesecloth, pectin, and even paraffin.

I spent the afternoon stemming the grapes and washing them, but when I was ready to start making the jelly, I realized I had forgotten the technique. Which came first – sterilizing the jars, lids and rings, melting the paraffin, or boiling the mixture? The recipes never tell you everything, and I couldn’t recall the procedure which, at one time, I used to carry out so flawlessly. Without a dishwasher to help me sterilize the jars, this project became even more challenging. Then came a flashback of my first year on the farm …

Like a novice, I kept glancing at the recipe after every move I made, in between Googling how best to sterilize the jar, how to melt the paraffin, or if I should even still use paraffin. I somehow managed to boil the grapes, strain them through the cheesecloth, take them back to the pan, add the pectin, boil the mixture, add the sugar and boil it again, and at the same time sterilize the jars, lids and rings, and melt the paraffin. That’s probably where I got my excellent multi-tasking skills, I muttered to myself, as I hurried along.

The balancing act wasn’t over. Then it was time to pour the liquid into the jars (Alas, I no longer have my funnel!), skim off the leftover foam and bubbles, wipe the mixture that had spilled out of the jars, then add the paraffin and attach the seals and rings while the mixture was still boiling hot.

After it was all over, I breathed a sigh of relief and surveyed my kitchen and the purple spills around me. Yep, I can no longer brag about my canning expertise. I am back to being a novice!

While washing the pans and cleaning up the spills, I kept checking my jelly, hoping it would set. I finally remembered it isn’t jello; jelly doesn’t set instantly.

More than an hour has passed and it looks like the paraffin has set. Now I remember that I used to go to bed and wake up the next morning to homemade jelly. I think I’ll do that again … If my grape jelly turns out to be a success, then some very special people will receive a jar; if not, I’m going to be stuck with a heck of a lot of grape sauce and will have to search for another bunch of recipes!

Grape jelly all done (I hope!).

September 19, 2011 - Posted by | California, Life | , , , , , ,

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