Jelly from Wild Grapes

I couldn’t get my hands on any Concord grapes this year.  But it was a good year for the wild grapes and I came across a nice cluster of vines attached to a fallen tree which made them very easy to reach!  I’ve always wanted to try making jelly from wild grapes and this was the year to do it.  I ended up with a peck basket full.

They are small, but mighty!  Wild grapes look a lot like your regular Concord grapes, but they are much smaller.  Their seeds are still large and there is very little flesh to the fruit.  All their flavor is contained in the skins.  They have a deep, wine-like flavor.

Here is a cluster beside a few store-bought seedless red grapes for size comparison.

Once I got them all plucked, I was surprised how many grapes I actually had.  They filled my 8 quart stockpot about 1/3 of the way full.

I prepared the juice as outlined in the Ball Blue Book, adding just enough distilled water to cover them by about half an inch.  This was brought to a boil and simmered gently for an hour or so, until the fruit was well-cooked and soft.

I allowed that to cool enough to handle, then poured it into about 8 layers of cheesecloth.  I like to tie the bag from the handle of a cabinet and let it drip overnight.

Now this is something the Ball Blue Book will not tell you and I learned from my mother-in-law.  You must allow the juice to passively drip from the bag.  Do not squeeze it!  If you do, you will cause your juice to become cloudy.  You can put the pulp back into the pot with a little more water and repeat the process to get some more juice out of it if you want.

Isn’t that a pretty color?

Now, yet another thing the Ball Blue Book will not tell you:  for the clearest possible juice, you should let the pitcher of juice sit undisturbed in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so.  This allows the tartaric acid crystals to settle out and they will form on the bottom and sides of your pitcher.  Do not stir or disturb at all.  When you gently pour out the juice, they will stay behind in the pitcher.  Tartaric acid is very sour.  This is the same compound from which cream of tartar is derived.

I made my jelly following the Ball Blue Book recipe.  The first batch I did was with pectin.  It made a gorgeous, burgundy colored jelly.

I had enough juice left over to do a half batch of grape jelly without pectin (also in the BBB.)  It came out very nicely too.  I think next time though, I will dilute the juice by one-fourth.  The no-pectin recipe had a stronger, purer, wild grape flavor as a result of being boiled down.

The flavor of this jelly is so much more complex than that of regular grape jelly.  I like that it has a little extra punch of tartness.  It has a deeper flavor and I’ve thought hard about how to describe it.  I would say it has a lambrusco grape/tart red cherry flavor.

I ended up with 5 pints and was very pleased with the results for my effort!

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Hot Pepper Mustard

Ok, I’ve been canning for 2 weeks straight!  I put up lots of goodies for winter and I’ve lost count now how many batches of this sweet/hot pepper butter I’ve made.  I’ve given away a few jars to friends and family and have had several requests for the recipe, so here it is…

You won’t find this recipe in the Ball Blue Book.  My guess is that they don’t approve of it because it contains flour as a thickener.  I’ve made hundreds of jars of this and have yet to have had any go bad.  My dad loves this stuff and if you could can it in gallon jars, he’d be all for it!

It is the perfect dipping mustard.  We like it with cheese and summer sausage, on ham or turkey sandwiches, for dipping pretzels and it also makes a great glaze for a baked ham or venison roast.

I originally got this recipe from a lady at my dad’s church.  My dad then ran over to Ohio and bought a bushel of U-Pick hungarian hot wax banana peppers and begged me to make him a lifetime supply of mustard.  The original version was a little too flaming hot and salty for our tastes, so I’ve tweaked it a bit and clarified the directions a little.  Here’s my version…

Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter)

(yields about 7 pints)

  • 4 quarts chopped hot and/or sweet banana peppers (3.3 lbs or about 36 large peppers)
  • 1 qt. vinegar
  • 1 qt. prepared yellow mustard (don’t go cheap, get a good quality mustard)
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 tbsp. salt (optional; I use 1 tbsp.)

1. Wearing vinyl gloves, cut up and deseed/devein the peppers.  Remove stem and blossom ends and cut into large chunks.  You can toss in some of the seeds if you want it really hot.  I go about 50/50 on the ratio of hot and sweet banana peppers.  This gives it a kick without burning your tongue off!

     I also like to take a few dark red peppers aside and chop them by hand before adding to the pot.  They look really nice suspended in the golden yellow of the mixture.

2. Puree the peppers in a blender using some of the vinegar.

3. In a large pot, combine all ingredients except the flour.

4. In a small bowl, add enough water to the flour to make a smooth paste.  Be sure to work all the lumps out.

5. Add flour paste to the mixture.

6. Simmer over medium heat until thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

IMPORTANT — Try not to let the mustard boil as this will incorporate air bubbles into the mixture.  Air bubbles are the number one cause of the mustard boiling out of the jars in while in the water bath.  If you think it looks bubbly, let it sit awhile on the lowest heat setting until they are gone.  Stir gently.

7. Pour into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Wipe rims and place lids.  Hot water bath 15 minutes for pints and half-pints.

Enjoy!

I made a bunch of half-pints to give as Christmas gifts.  I try to can something special every year just for that purpose.

Well, now I am on to green beans.  I picked 5 gallons this week.  I am loving my Nickell heirloom pole beans I got from Sustainable Mountain Agriculture, Inc.  They are so tender and flavorful.  I am saving seeds for trading and may do a giveaway later on. 

The garden is close to finishing up.  I have a few fall crops to put in yet.  I am getting ready to till the main garden up and plant it to buckwheat for my bees (who are doing great, btw.)  August is really my busiest time of year!

Guess what I’ve been doing all day?

Making salsa!

I knew when I did it that I had planted way too many tomatoes… But I do that every year.  I can’t stand the thought that by some cruel twist of nature (deer, drought, blight) that I might not have enough tomatoes, so I usually end up over-planting to compensate.  It does eventually get to the point where you can’t even give them away and I end up hurling tomatoes at people as they try to flee from my home.  Funny how most of the summer you desperately long for that first vine ripe tomato, then very quickly you become almost sick of them and can’t force yourself to eat another bite.  That’s when I break out the canning jars…

My little tomato-munching monster stands ready to jump in the second she thinks I’m not looking and start poking holes in their shiny, tender skins.  She is more of a threat to my tomato harvest than an army of hornworms or a flock of chickens.  Daily she left behind juicy, seedy piles of devastation on my porch last year.

Ava doesn’t get sick of them.  She could eat four or five at a stretch.

Last year I made some good salsa using the Mrs. Wages’ spice packets.  At nearly $3.00 a packet, I didn’t find that very economical though, so this year I tried to grow most of the ingredients myself.  I used the Ball Blue Book recipe for Zesty Salsa, but after spending all day chopping vegetables I am not really happy with the results.  It came out with way more onion and pepper than I’d like.  And also hotter than I like.  I have a few ideas where I might be able to tweak it–which tomato types to use and definitely less Hungarian Hot Wax Peppers or maybe use a chili pepper next year.  You can use less peppers/onions than called for, but certainly not more.  😛  I’ll find some use for it either way.  Maybe it would be good in chili…or to marinate a roast.

I’m working with a better canning set-up this year…

 

I moved everything out onto the porch, which frees up a lot of counter space and keeps the kitchen from getting quite so hot. 

I bought two 6′ x 2.5′ folding tables at Ollie’s for $35 each.  They’ll be handy for a number of things…cookouts, yardsales, butchering chickens.  And I also bought a Coleman Outdoor Grill and Stove which is a really useful thing to have.  When I decided to get a new ceramic cooktop stove, I realized I couldn’t use my waterbath canner on it without risk of damaging it because the bottom of the canner is fluted and wouldn’t make for good heat conductivity and the heavy weight of it could crack or scatch the stove.  I’ve wanted a camp stove for a while anyway.  It will also be useful for butchering chickens to boil the scalding pot and also a good thing to have on hand if the power goes out or for going camping (if I can ever talk my husband into going tent camping again).

This set-up worked really well and was very efficient.  I like that my kitchen is not so cluttered and I don’t have to work around rows of jars that must sit undisturbed for a day.

I’ve had a pretty good harvest so far and I have many days of canning ahead of me yet.  Today I’ll work on finishing up the rest of the tomatoes as plain canned tomatoes, which is pretty easy.  Then I’ll move on to making Hot Pepper Mustard (Butter) which is mostly for my Dad because he really loves it.  I made sauerkraut a couple days ago out of a dozen cabbages that I just harvested and it still has a few weeks of fermenting in the jar, then I’ll can it.  I froze my blackberries for now, waiting until I had enough to do several batches of jam.  Then it’s on to apple sauce, juice and jelly…and somewhere along the way I’ve got to find some place to buy a couple bushels of peaches because ours didn’t do well this year (mildew/disease).

Here’s what’s left of my storage onions after making salsa.

That should get me to November perhaps.  I planted a lot, but seemed to use them daily right from the garden once they started to get up to size.  The reds aren’t good keepers.  They were very determined to flower, which messes up the integrity of the bulb even if you do pinch them off.  This was the first year I did well with onions because I actually took the time to study up on when and how to plant them this time.  The earlier the better!

We’ve been eating fresh watermelon and canteloupe daily too…

I planted five vines on the spot where I had penned my Cornish X broilers last year and they LOVED IT.  I harvested 17 Crimson Sweet watermelons so far, two were huge–over 20 lbs each and most of the rest were 15 lbs!  Unfortunately with canteloupe and watermelon, they all seem to turn ripe at the same time, so I’ve been giving a bunch away.  As with the tomatoes, you can only eat so much watermelon…then you’re done!

Winter downtime

Can you feel it?  Spring is coming!  Yeah, my father-in-law used to tell me I was crazy too.  But no, seriously, now is the time to be thinking about Spring.  If you don’t start planning now, you’ll be way behind time May rolls around!

I have finally come out of recovery mode following Christmas and New Year’s and now I am ready to move on to bigger and better things.  The seed catalogs are pouring in and I have a stack nearly a 1/2 foot high that I have barely had time to go through.  But before I get all starry eyed and overwhelm myself with endless gardening possibilities (and monetary impossibilities), I better sit down and take stock of what I want and need to plant and what I already have in my seed stash.

January is the time for getting your seed orders in.  If you plan to start your own plants like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers and bedding/container flowers, February and March will be here before you know it.  I am also hearing a lot of buzz this year about getting those seed orders in early because of an anticipated high demand.  There are many newcomers to home gardening now because of rising food costs, health-consciousness regarding how our food is grown and environmental concerns over how far out-of-season crops are shipped.  If you procrastinate too long, you may have difficulty finding the varieties you want.

I am currently finalizing what all I want to plant and consulting my West Virginia University ag extension service gardening calendar for indoor/outdoor planting times.  Next I will consider the layout of my 2500 square foot garden.  This year I plan to do a variation on the traditional row system and divide my garden into 4 sections, which will make it easier for me to manage my crop rotation for disease prevention.  One quadrant I plan to plant entirely with June-bearing strawberries.  The other 3 will be rotated with vegetable crops.

One thing I took note of last year as I did more canning than ever before was that I really need to examine my canning recipes and plant for all the ingredients involved.  At $2.89 for a seasoning packet, it becomes really costly to can 40 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  I can easily grow all the herbs I need if I plan for them ahead of time.

If it weren’t for full color garden catalogs, I do believe I would lose my mind on these gray January days. These are a few of my favorite catalogs with links to their websites to receive a free catalog in the mail.

Well, I just happened to look out my window and spotted a male blue bird on my curly willow. A definite sign that Spring is on its way! As I watch the cold, drizzling rain coming down outside there is nothing more uplifting than dreaming of the upcoming garden season and the lush abundance of things I plan to grow. I can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt!

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