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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Visiting the Bees

Today turned out to be a nicer day than I expected; sunny, warm and slightly windy.  The morning started out cold, but made its way up to 72 degrees by the afternoon.

My mother-in-law, Carol, came up early to entertain Ava for the afternoon.  Once I got dinner started (potato soup), I grabbed up my gear and hurried down to go see the bees.

Although I observe them from outside the hive often, the August heat and humidity prevented me from donning the full bee suit and going down to take a peek.  My wasp sting scare set me back a little also.  It took two more stings–bee and wasp–for me to discover that with enough Benadryl (about 4 doses of the liquid version), I can be sure that I won’t have a crazy allergic reaction.

Prior to that I had just put on another super, experimenting with top bars.  I found out later that the bars I used were too narrow and even with waxed guide strips they would not likely make nice comb.  I expected that they would just go ahead and make freeform natural comb and I wasn’t too worried about that since I had a queen excluder on.  I figured I could still harvest it, even if it were a mess.

But I was not expecting this:

A completely empty super!  Peeking down between the (horribly inadequate) top bars I saw nothing–nada–they didn’t do anything upstairs.  All that time, wasted. 

The brown screen you see is the queen excluder.  It keeps the queen from moving up and laying eggs in the honey super.  Like I said, I was prepared to deal with freeform comb.  I figured they’d just draw comb diagonally here and there, like they did with the lid when I had the mess to fix earlier this spring.

Ah well, I guess I am learning.  At least they are still alive, haven’t flown off and appear to be completely healthy!  I’ll do things differently next year.

Now this was something I was glad to see:

 

The inner cover was nice and clean.  No ants this time!

My husband has come with me all the other times I have worked the bees.  Today, with the day length getting shorter, I couldn’t wait for him to come home and I worked them by myself.  It was actually much more relaxing for me not to have to talk through it.  I just took my time and enjoyed their buzzing company.  No pressure.  I worked off all the burr comb that I could see on the upper deep, pulled out a couple of frames to inspect and put everything back together.  I’m going to leave that empty super on there just like it is.  I will use it to accommodate a Ziploc bag sugar-water feeder with some terramycin in it when I go back to look at them next week.

I’ve got buckwheat sown in most of my garden plot right now and with all the rain we’ve had, I expect it will germinate soon.  This is the first time I’ve planted buckwheat for a cover crop, but what I’ve read on it says that it should be in bloom 3 weeks after it emerges.  It’s a favorite food source for bees and will make for nice fall forage for them.  I hope that with feeding them and adding on another super, maybe they’ll put up some buckwheat honey.  I will probably just leave it on there for winter, just to be sure they don’t starve out; although what they have now should be enough.  It’s the same set up I wintered them on last year.

After my husband got home and we all had dinner, I left myself very little time to go out and look for mushrooms today.  I got about a half hour to walk the tractor path back into the woods on my Dad’s farm.  I didn’t find any mushrooms, but I didn’t go home empty-handed.  I found some big persimmons.  Ava liked them and said they were like jelly.  They taste better than they look.

There was also a very pretty sunset this evening as I was coming back across the hayfield.

 

It was a good, fairly productive day.  🙂

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