I almost titled this post “If I Never See a Grape Again….”
Grapes are tiny and time consuming and when you have nearly 15 gallons of them you should carve out a couple of weeks for the preserving process.
You may recall that my buckets looked like this after all the vines were picked:
Bucket by bucket I dumped my harvest into the kitchen sink, then went to work separating the good grapes from the bad. The bad ones were tossed out while the good ones were destemmed in preparation for washing.
A few people have told me they skip washing and destemming because they find it unnecessary. Here’s why I do it: tannins. I’m trying to create the sweetest and purest grape flavor. This excerpt on tannins is from a post a few weeks ago:
Tannins are a natural compound contained in many plants, including grapevines. They are extracted from grape skins, seeds and stems, and the strength of the tannin increases as the grape ages. They are also categorized as an astringent, meaning they constrict body tissue (like taste buds) on contact. If you have ever taken a sip that left your mouth feeling dry and puckered, you were probably drinking a wine made with mature grapes.
I washed them because they were capital D – DIRTY and I have a thing about dirt. When cooking grapes, dirt foams up and must be skimmed off, so in my opinion, a quick rinse after destemming is an easy and worthwhile step as it lessens the foamage.
What I’m saying is that it’s a matter of personal preference.
Back to juice making. Once the washing was done I measured out two 3lb “bundles” of grapes and emptied them one after the other into a large pot, then poured in water until the topmost layer of grapes were just barely submerged.
I brought the water to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally. I could see the grapes begin to split and soften.
After about fifteen minutes I removed them from the heat and mashed them gently in the pot.
Next came some elbow grease. First I used a mesh colander to strain the grapes with water (“grape water”). My colander allowed for 2 cups of grape water at a time.
Then I used a potato masher to begin smushing the grapes through the colander.
When that was no longer effective, I grabbed a small 4oz jelly jar and used it like a mini wine press to extract the remaining juice (a method I learned from my great-grandma). I had to really put my back into it!
I discarded the pulverized grapes into a small colander to collect any remaining droplets.
At this point I strained the juice through cheesecloth to fine the pulp.
Then I repeated the process with the next 6lbs of grapes.
Believe me, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Now I had all this lovely juice. But I wasn’t done.
I added a gallon of juice to the large pot and brought it to a simmer, skimming the foam as it heated up.
Then I added 2 cups of sugar, stirring continuously until the granules dissipated. I let that simmer for a good 5 minutes and removed it from the heat.
I filled my largest stock pot with water on high heat. Once boiling, I began submerging 16oz mason jars (lids included) into the water until the pot was packed tight.
After the jars boiled for 10 minutes, I was ready to start the actual canning:
As you might imagine, it’s a bit of a dance learning how to best synchronize the timing between straining the juice and boiling the mason jars.
Using towels to handle the very hot glass, I transferred the fresh juice into as many jars as possible, twisted their lids tightly closed, and placed them upside down.
After 10-15 minutes I began hearing popping sounds, indicating the successful formation of a vacuum seal in the affected jars. I manually checked the internal pressure by poking my finger against the top of the lid.
NOTE: If I had been able to push the lids inward, I would have given them another 10-15 minutes upside down, long enough for most to seal. Then the stragglers would go back into boiling water for 5 minutes. The “failures” thereafter would go into the fridge to be enjoyed over the next few days since the juice within could no longer be preserved.
So. Cook, strain, mash, skim, stir, boil, fill, pop. Repeat. Ad nauseam.
Guess what everyone I know is getting for Christmas? Spoiler alert!
Happy canning! What are you preserving right now? Come back next week and I’ll show you how to make grape jelly.