It’s taken me 4 years to get my jelly making method down pat from experimenting with different recipes (no single source seemed to give ALL the instructions), so I wanted to save others the time, effort and hassle of doing the same! And in usual GND style, I’ll try to make it as simple as possible.
Let’s be clear – this is a labour of love. You could fairly easily buy grape jelly. If I added up the cost of materials and the time it takes to harvest, de-stem, bag, weigh, wash, blend, sieve, wait, strain, pour, stir, boil and clean up after, my jelly would be worth about $100 a jar at my current consulting rates. 😉 But we make jelly. We make it because we have 25-30lbs of grapes growing in our yard every year, because our family loves it, and because I can control exactly what (and how much sugar) goes into it. OK, as long you’re still with me, let’s begin (and I’d read the whole post first to make sure)!
What you’ll need:
Grapes – we have small Concord (purple) grapes, and they have large seeds, so they are essentially useless to eat as a snack and are somewhat difficult to process. If you have seedless grapes (and/or a good juicer), you can skip at least step 4. This is the most important step to avoid insanity from small seeded grapes!
5 lbs of grapes will give you roughly 5 cups of juice and 5 small (8 oz/250ml) jars of jelly. You can only process 5 jars at a time, so work with 5 lb batches.
- Blender or juicer
- Cheese cloth or nut milk bag (I bought one of these online for $3 and it’s been great, as it’s reusable)
- A few medium sized bowls
- Large pot (for making the jelly recipe)
- Canning equipment (you can get this all together as a kit, which I recommend – includes jar gripper, jar lid lifter, funnel, etc.)
- Jars with flat lids and tops
- Pectin. I REALLY like Pomona’s low sugar pectin because a) you don’t have to shell out for 7 cups of sugar for every 5 jars (!), and b) you’re not eating 7 cups of sugar! It’s gotten more expensive in the past few years, but I still prefer it to the regular stuff. You can make any amount of sweetness you want, and grapes are really sweet on their own.
- Lemon juice (1/4 cup)
- Sugar (up to 2 cups)
- If you are harvesting your own, sit with a bucket between your legs, a pair of gloves and a bowl and gently pull the grapes off the stems. This is a great family activity for kids to earn their keep. 😉 We wear gloves because we seem to get a rash if we don’t. I’m guessing this is similar to the allergic stuffy nose feeling I get from drinking too much red wine. 😉
3. If frozen, thaw grapes in their bags in a bowl of hot water in the sink.
4. Blend a small portion (about 2 cups) on low to medium in your blender for about 10 seconds just to get things moving and start to remove the seeds but not to blend them up (yuck).
5. Put your sieve over a bowl and pour the grape mixture in. The sieve will catch the skins and seeds and the juice will drip into the bowl. To get more juice out of the fruit, pour it through the cheese cloth or nut milk bag – you can let it drip into another bowl, but I get sick of waiting so I squeeze it through and it turns out fine. This is the part of jelly making I just couldn’t get my head around because the sludge/juice would stop dripping through and it could literally take DAYS for the juice to drop through the cheese cloth. So I squeeze it! You could absolutely use a juicer for parts 4 & 5, but I can’t justify buying one just to make grape juice once a year. Repeat until done. ***2017 update: borrowed a juicer from a friend and it changed my jelly making life! Yay!***
6. For best results, let your bowl of grape juice sit in the fridge overnight, and the next day, pull the “foam” off the top with a spoon, then squeeze it through your cheese cloth/bag again.
7. Sterilize your jars, tops and lids – I just do this all together in the canning pot and boil them for 10 minutes before letting them sit waiting for me while I prepare the jelly recipe.
8. Measure 5 cups juice into the large pot (any leftovers can be mixed half and half with water or other drinks – yum!). Add lemon juice (plus calcium water if using Pomona’s pectin – the instructions are inside the box, so I won’t repeat them here, but it’s easy). Stir and bring to boil. While it’s heating up, measure 5 tsp pectin into a bowl with 1/4 cup sugar and mix. Measure the rest of your sugar into another bowl.
9. Pull the jars and lids out of the pot and set them on a tea towel, spaced apart as this is where you’ll be filling the jars.
9. Once the juice boils, add the pectic/sugar mixture and stir like crazy for 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin, then add the rest of the sugar and stir to dissolve. I used to test the consistency of my jelly at this point, but using the amounts and method above, I don’t seem to need to do this anymore, and it saves time and anxiety.
10. Pour the jelly into the jars, but leave 1/4″ at the top (important). You need to keep the jar edges clean (and I never reuse the flat lids). You can use the funnel but I just find this to be more equipment and mess – just pour carefully with oven mitts on because everything is hot.
11. This is where the canning accessories from the kit come in handy. Use the magnetic lid lifter to set the lids on top of the jars and screw on the tops. Then use the jar gripper to put them in the canner with the wire rack in. Lower the jars down and add more water on top of them if needed to cover them by at least an inch, and wait for the water to boil.
12. Boil hard for 10 minutes (there’s all sorts of timing rules to ensure your jelly doesn’t go bad, but I just boil it for 2 minutes longer to take care of any variables).
13. Clean up while boiling and make sure your tea towel is in a place that can be left undisrupted for a day.
14. Use the jar gripper to lift the jars out without disrupting them too much. Place on tea towel, and just leave them (for 24 hours)! You’ll be tempted to tilt them and try to see the jelly, but don’t . Usually the lids will make a popping sound as soon as I pull them out of the canner, indicating they’ve sealed. If they don’t, don’t worry, but you’ll need to check they are sealed by pressing lightly on them after the 24 hours to ensure they don’t pop up and down. Otherwise, you’ll need to redo the canning process…or eat it right away.
Phew. I know, it’s a lot of steps, and I always question whether it’s worth it, but hey, the grapes are free, it’s a great family activity, and the end product is fantastic on toast, pancakes, crackers, etc. or usually well received as a unique gift. Enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions or comments!