My Grape Jelly Laboratory

a basket of freshly harvested grapesShortly after we settled into our home in the country, my partner and I were beyond surprised to discover grapevines in our garden.

Maybe I am too much of a city boy to know better, but to find out that grapes could successfully grow at all in this northern climate was news to me. To discover them in our own garden was pure serendipity.

Given that it was just a couple of grapevines, we did not develop any grand illusions of a future in winemaking. Just the same, we looked forward to seeing how much they might produce and whether the grapes would be fit for consumption.

The first summer we were here, we were so busy, I don’t even recall seeing the grapes. But it was a drought year, so there is a chance that we barely had any.

It was in the second growing season that conditions were quite good. Not only did our apple tree give us a bumper crop, but the grape harvest filled a 4 litre basket, just enough for a batch of grape jelly. With the help of a recipe I found online, it was time to make jelly magic.

This was not my first time making jelly. Back in the early 2000s, at a time when I was forever searching for creative projects, I found a recipe for red pepper jelly in the TV Guide and thought to myself, “that doesn’t sound too hard.” I bought mason jars and the necessary ingredients and successfully produced a beautiful red jelly, perfect for Christmas gift giving.

With that experience long behind me (maybe too long), my grape jelly journey began. While I am certainly no stranger in the kitchen, the multi-step process seemed more complex than I remembered from my first experience.

The first step was separating the grapes from the stems. I knew it was going to be a messy job, so I performed the task outside on the front porch, only to find myself attracting and dodging wasps that were quite interested in what I was doing. The process was quickly accelerated from a leisurely task to suddenly feeling like a machine, between the swatting and the separating.

Also, with fresh grapes squirting in every direction, I was covered in purple streaks by the time the operation was completed. Fortunately, purple is my favourite colour so I rocked the purple camo look.

The next step was boiling the grapes for a few minutes and crushing them. When cooled, the resulting pulp was to be strained through cheesecloth to remove impurities that can make the jelly appear cloudy. This wasn’t a difficult step, but I soon found the kitchen cluttered with several straining stations to allow gravity to kick in to extract the juice. The kitchen looked like a grape jelly laboratory.

When I collected the juice, it was time to call it day.

A couple of days later, it was time to boil the grape juice with sugar and pectin and then to place the jelly in sterilized jars. As the jars cooled, the sound of all the little lids popping to confirm that they were properly sealed was a symphony of joyful music to my ears.

But after putting them in the fridge to cool and set, the strangest thing happened.

I had filled 11 jars with the jelly preparation, but only 5 of them set while 6 remained runny. Either I am really talented or really unlucky, but how does that even happen from the same batch of jelly?

Over the course of the coming months, we worked our way through the jars of set jelly, and thoroughly enjoyed them. As much as we had plans to use the runny jelly as a fancy “coulis” by pouring it on vanilla ice cream or plain vanilla cake, somehow, ambition was lacking at the end of a long day when the package of ready-made gluten-free Oreos was staring us in the face.

In the year that followed, I often wondered (and researched) what might have gone wrong for half of the batch of jelly to turn out runny.

I decided that if I had to do it all over again, I would follow the recipe provided on the box of pectin. You’d think that after years in business, the pectin company would know best, wouldn’t you?

In the next growing season, faced with another bumper crop of grapes, I bravely (yet apprehensively) decided to invest the time and energy in developing the 2022 batch of jelly.
For some reason (let’s call it experience) I seemed much better organized as the set up and preparation seemed to take considerably less time and effort than in the previous year.
The only hiccup was that the crop didn’t produce enough juice to faithfully follow the recipe on the pectin box.

I decided that to be true to the recipe, I would buy pure grape juice from the grocery store to top up our “production”. However, to my great surprise, none of the stores in the area offered the juice that was a joyful staple in my childhood menus.

Given the gas, time and energy needed to run between rural grocery stores, I settled on a close cousin, a “grape punch” that would have to do.

Fortunately, the 2022 batch of grape jelly was a success. It was tasty and bought back fond childhood memories of peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches! The best part is that all of the jars of jelly did indeed set properly! Woo-hoo!

That being the case, when time and energy permits, I may go back to last year’s stock and try to boil them down again with a little more sugar and pectin to see if last year’s batch will finally set. Better late than never, I guess.

Either way, who knew that in our move to the country, jelly making would be added to my repertoire among many other new skills.

For that I am most delighted and most grateful, because grape jelly is truly one of life’s simple and sweet pleasures!

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Filed under food, home, Humour

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