This is the time of the year when all the fruit gets ripe. At once. All together. So, rather than running screaming out onto to the freeway (which would be a long run, since it’s 30-odd miles away) I start looking for faster ways to deal with the overabundance of stuff. Among other offerings, we have grapes – a seeded, dark purple Concord-type variety. They get essentially no care and no summer water, but if we didn’t trim them back periodically, they would take over the place. Or maybe they and the blackberries would fight it out, and let the best fruit win. At any rate, we usually have LOTS of grapes, and this year seems to be a banner year; I picked a 3-gallon bucket full from one side of a six-foot section of fence.
This grape juice recipe is about as fast and easy as it gets, and it’s easy for even fairly small children to help with, since they can sit in a chair and pull grapes off the stem. I just need to check them over before I wash them. The two youngest were my helpers for the four buckets we picked yesterday. While we cleaned them off the stems, we talked about how people preserved food. They’ve been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books; the youngest is currently working on By the Shores of Silver Lake. So I told them how Laura and Ma might have made ‘leather britches’ from dried green beans, and we covered lots of other food processing from the ‘olden days.’ Of course, they think that was just a year or so before I was born…
If you happen to be searching out this recipe on the Web, you will see that processing times vary from 10 to 25 minutes for a boiling water bath. I did a little research on canning grapes in general and found similar variations. I’ve found that 20 minutes seems to work fine for me at an elevation of just over 2,000 feet (elevation affects processing times because of differences in atmospheric pressure). If you choose to pressure can, go for 10 minutes at five pounds pressure (but adjust for altitude if necessary).
Grapes — the amount will vary according to the size of the grapes. My grapes are on the small side, most are about the diameter of the tip of my little finger. You want to fill each jar about half full.
Sugar — I use ½ cup or less of sugar, partly because these are fairly sweet grapes and partly because sugar is really not good for you. I’ve seen variations of 1/3 to 1 cup of sugar per jar. Some recipes use ¼ cup honey.
1. Stem and wash grapes. Pick out any bits of stem, leaf or debris.
2. Wash your jars in warm, soapy water and rinse well. Fill your canner or stockpot to within two inches of the top and submerge the empty jars in the canner.
3. As long as you can get them out with tongs, you can also put your jar rings and lids in; otherwise, start a separate small saucepan for the jars and rings.
4. Boil a couple of gallons of water in another pot.
5. Once the water in the canner starts to simmer, remove one jar (pour the water back in the canner). Set it on a towel on the kitchen counter. If you set the hot jar on the cool counter, it may break.
6. Fill it half full of grapes (I just scoop them up with my hands; a funnel helps keep grapes from bouncing all over the kitchen), add your sweetener and pour in enough boiling water from the second pan to fill the jar to within ½ inch of the top.
7. Wipe the rim with a paper towel dipped in boiling water. Put on the lid and ring; tighten the ring until it’s firm but not too tight.
8. Put the filled jar back in the canner. Repeat until you’ve filled all the jars.
9. Bring the water in the canner to a full rolling boil. Start your timer and process for 20 minutes. If you’re pressure canning, follow the directions for your pressure canner.
10. Once the processing is finished, remove the jars from the canner and allow to come to room temperature. Let them stand for 12 hours or so, then check seals. If one didn’t seal, put it in the fridge.
11. This will make the best juice if stored for about four weeks. When you’re ready to drink it, shake thoroughly, then strain into a pitcher. You may need to add extra water if it’s too strong.