Sunday, 13 September 2015

Messing about with wild grapes (with bonus mini-rant)

Down at the bottom of the yard where the land drops off abruptly to what we call the 'ravine', the wild grape vines go high up into the trees. In spring time the flowers on those vines emit the fragrance of heaven. Some years, like this year, a heavy frost wipes them out; but wild grapes are undaunted. They simply bloom again.

We feared it was but a tease, that second wave of heaven scent. The actual vineyards of the region were declaring disaster, surely the wild ones couldn't produce fruit if the coddled wine grapes couldn't, right? But when the birds started carousing in a particular tree a few days ago, Paul (my husband) (lover of all things grape) (and all around good guy) crashed that party - and he came back with favours!

Half a bucket-o-joy!

Much to our surprise, these wild grapes are not the usual tiny mouth-puckeringly sour variety that we usually find back there, but as near-as-dammit to concords as we've ever seen. A little smaller, mind you, and still somewhat puckery, but juicy, oh are they juicy!

I've been messing about with wild grapes for several years now. As a rank amateur - truly, I'd never preserved fruit in my life before we came here - and with no one to stand over me and instruct, I relied on a wonderful book by Grace Firth called "A Natural Year". Thank heaven for second hand book stores, eh? If you ever come across a copy, buy it. Not only instructional, it's a delightful read, too.

Wild grapes are nothing if not unpredictable. You collect in the same spot a few years running only to find nothing there for the next few. Every vine is different, every bunch of grapes is different. In short, wild fruit is not for sissies, or for those who want clear, perfect jellies. Some years you'll get show off quality, other years - well most years actually, if you're dealing with the tiny grapes - you'll get something in between a jelly and a jam. We like to call it grape tar. You haven't lived until you've had grape tar on home made bread. I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you that, but it's true.

N.B. - If you have issues with sugar, you'd probably better stop reading right here. I don't want to trigger cravings or offend anyone who takes issue with the the morality of "Big Sugar". (Although .. triggering cravings for wild grape tar is no sin, and honestly, doesn't the new morality surrounding food just go too far sometimes? Come on, admit it. No one likes a prude, and now that we're all so "okay" with sexuality of every stripe, it's food choices that we use to judge one another by, isn't it? I don't mean to be snide or anything, but it really gets up my nose that it's okay for men dress up like Barbie dolls, even sometimes mutilating their bodies and call themselves women but I get flack for eating jam on bread from the holier than thou crowd. Seriously?)

Where was I?

Here's all it takes, and really, there is no need to be intimidated. It's simple. It's messy, too, but in a good way. I'm afraid I don't have pics for every step but here goes ..

When I strip the grapes off the stems I sort through them carefully. On occasion I'll find small webs. I don't know if these are bug-webs or fungus but I don't want that in my tar, so I'm methodical. I added a couple of crab apples and a small, unripe green apple, cores and all. Grapes have their own pectin, especially if some are less than ripe, but I needed insurance. Little green apples are God's gift to those of us too cheap to buy store bought pectin.

Everything went into my biggest pot with a couple of tablespoons of water in case of scorching. I got in there with my hands and squished (it's fun!). That was allowed to just barely simmer until the apples were soft.

I let that cool down, then got out a big bowl, my colander, an old pillow slip (dampened) and something to weigh it all down (in this case, a large vinegar jug inside another big bowl). I tipped the fruit in the pillowslip, secured it with a rubber band and left it, weighted, overnight.

Now I know that in true jelly-making, we're supposed to just let the juices drip. But I want all the grape goodness I can muster, so the next day I do this:

I love how gory this bit gets. You should have seen my hands!

Squeeze and squish and squeeze some more until I've got as much juice as I can muster. It ended up as 4 cups of juice going into the pot, and an equal amount of sugar. Gently heat and stir to dissolve the sugar, then gradually increase the heat till I get bubbles that look like grapes again.

I do a little skimming at the beginning, but the foam you see here is benign.

I keep spoons and a couple of saucers in the freezer and when a drop from a cold spoon to a cold saucer is allowed to sit about a minute, then crinkles when pushed, it's ready.

Hot, sterilized jars ..

Oh that smells good!

4 cups of juice made 4 jars, plus enough for sampling. So of course I then had to make bread!

Ha! Someone had trouble slicing the bread straight!

In a welcome twist, it came out more jelly-like than the usual tar. It was such a success that Paul went back to the party this morning. In the pouring rain. He was gone such a long time ..


Crazy birds, they must have been having grape parties in the rain!

But that's okay. That man o' mine, bless him, had a back-up plan. Plums!

Not one of our usual wild plum picking spots had a single plum. But Paul has an eye, yes he does, and spotted these a couple of days ago. We picked just enough for eating that day; today in the pouring rain, he went back.

Wow, eh?

To be continued ..

Jam? Jelly? Sauce? 


  1. You don't add in a bit of the smashed grapes just for texture and goodness? You could try a variation of this, although it has kefir whey.

    1. That's why I squeeze, so as to get as much pulp as I can, and why, especially with the smaller grapes, it turns thick as tar.

    2. Wow, that is quite the recipe. I'm not a fizzy drink fan, but I'm sure someone out there reading this is, thanks for posting it!

  2. Ah, I was of the opinion that the pulp stayed behind since you had it in the slipcover.

    1. Nope, not much left but seeds and skins by the time I'm done squeezing it. I have strong hands, a leftover from my cleaning lady days.