Muscadine Jelly

I am a huge fan of the South’s favorite purple wild grape, the muscadine. It doesn’t really make great clusters, has a thick skin, and plenty of seeds. To be honest, it is not very sweet. However, there is just something about the semi-sour flavor of this grape that makes it memorable. I like them so much that I even trained a couple of vines to arbors after rescuing them from a land clearing project. Now that the vines are mature, I get enough grapes to make a batch or two of jelly each year.

Since the grapes don’t conveniently all get ripe at once, I keep a bag in the freezer that I can add to as needed. Basically, you get a few grapes every day as they ripen. By the end of the season, you will be shocked by how much fruit you actually got. You just get them a few at a time.

Once my grapes are all in, it is time to reduce them down. I break out the big stock pot and fill it half full of the frozen grapes. I add a couple of cups of water to get it all started, put it all on a low heat, and settle in and stir occasionally while the grapes soften.

While the heat is doing its thing, I get my secret weapon ready, my manual baby food press. It applies the perfect amount of pressure as you crank the handle to squeeze all the good out of the grapes, but leave the peels and seeds behind. Yes, this a great way to soak up the whole afternoon.

Once the grapes are nice and soft, they come off the heat and the pressing for pulp and juice begins. Normally, if I have several batches to do, I pour the grapes up into a big bowl and start the next batch in the stockpot.

As the juice flows, I pour it up for storage into four cup sized storage containers. They then get labeled, dated, and put in the chest freezer for use later on. However, I always make at least one batch of jelly just to celebrate the end of the season.

Now you get to find out why I use four cup sized storage containers. My recipe for jelly:

4 cups of grape juice/pulp
7 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1 packet of Certo(r) fruit pectine

You will also need jars for your finished jelly. Most grocery retailers carry canning supplies, so buy the size jars that you want to use. I like half pint for gifts and pints for my own use. I run the jars and lids thru the dishwasher to make sure they are clean before I use them. To be extra sure, you can boil the jars to make sure they are good to use.

For making jelly, heat control thru the process is important. You don’t want scortched jelly. I start with my juice in a large enough pot to hold everything and allow for stirring. The juice goes in first, then I put the heat on the medium setting. Next, in goes the seven cups of sugar. Be patient and stir slowly as the heat gets the sugar to melt. When you have a smooth liquid, you can now up the heat a bit because you need to bring the juice to a rolling boil. I add the lemon juice in about now. As the juice starts to boil, it is time to add the fruit pectin. Pour the contents of the package in and stir. Let boil for about another minute then take it all off the heat. There will be some foam floating on top. Personally, I don’t care. It is all going in jars.

Here we go with the speed round. While everything is still as hot as possible, it is time to scoop, jar, and lid. You will need a good scoop, a wide mouthed funnel, and a steady hand. Scoop up a load of the hot liquid jelly and funnel it into a jar. Fill to the botton of the threads. Once full, use a glove or other hand protection to hold the jar while you put the lid and band on tightly. Set to the side and do the next one. Obviously, a friend or two to make this an assembly line will speed things up.

Once you have your jelly in the jar with lid and band, box them back up and set out of the way where they can sit and cool for a day or two. It is important for the jelly to set up properly that it not be moved for at least 24 hours. I know the temptation to pick up a jar and check it is nearly overwhelming, but don’t do it.

My favorite of part of the cooling process, is when the lids make a loud ping sound as they seal completely air tight. If every thing went according to plan, you can have homemade jelly all year long. Enjoy!

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