Sunday, September 29, 2013

Second/Third Week of September: Nature & Food-- Turning Wild Grapes into Preserves

I've had a crazy past couple weeks with work and vacation and all sorts of things. So I figured I would lump my 2nd and 3rd week posts into one, since they kind of go together!

Let's talk about Southern Grapes and Canning....

When we moved in to our new home a year ago, things were wild on the borders of our property.  One thing that was very wild was a grape vine that had woven itself through the chain link fence between our yard and our neighbors:  up and up and up through the trees and was then hanging down over our yard. (It still is.) I picked a few grapes.  Of course they are muscadine--but what variety I have no idea.  I noticed our neighbors have an arbor way in the back of their yard, so inevitably, a bird or squirrel or a strong wind carried a grape to our fence line and nature did it's thing.

In the south, most of your wild and crazy grape vines that people have in their yards, intentionally or not, are a muscadine grape.  There are many varieties of muscadine.  Learn more about them here.  (Note: if from another state, check our your own state's muscadine variety, as from my 5 minute google-research it looks like most muscadine varieties are kind of state-specific). I know mine aren't scuppernong because they are dark purple and small, not big and green.  It looks like they might be the "Thomas" or "Cowart" variety, because they are small-medium grapes and are pretty resistant to...well everything.

Here's a picture of the unintentional vine in my yard

And here's a picture of the fruit I've collected.

Because of the wildness of my vine, most of the fruit was way up out of reach.  So for about a week, I would go outside and harvest what I could from the parts of the vine I could reach.  All in all, I ended up with about a cup or 2 of grapes.

I've recently had the urge to can, but because I do not have a proper water bath--or even a large enough stock pot--most all my canning adventures have been freezer jams.  And that's really not that hard, you smush up fruit, add lemon juice and sugar and instant pectin, let it sit, then freeze.  Whoop-te-do!

I found a recipe from P. Allen Smith that was very simple for Muscadine preserves.  He doesn't add any additional pectin and spelled out simply how to make preserves for canning or freezing.  You can check his recipe out here.

If you are like me and have never made "proper" preserves, I took lots of pictures so you could see what each step looked like.  I probably had about a fourth of what Smith had, so I had to quarter the recipe.

First you have to separate the skin of the grape  from the pulp.  This was easy.  Smith says use a knife to open the grape and squeeze out the pulp.  My fruit was ripe enough, I could just squeeze it out with my fingers.  This was pretty messy, but fun--I think this would be a lot of fun for kids.  You end up with two containers--one with the grape skins, the other with the pulp that looks like green seedy-snot slime.

 Next you boil your snot-slime with a little water.  This breaks down the pulp from the seed.

While that's going, you take your grape skins and chop them finely in a food processor.   Eventually you will have to add lemon zest and juice to your pulp mix--so I went ahead and poured that on my chopped skins. 

After your pulp has boiled for a bit, you need to strain it to get the seeds out.  I had to use two strainers, because the first was too small. 

You should end up with mostly only seeds left in your strainer and the pulp has gone all through.   Discard the seeds.

So then back in the pot goes everything:  your strained pulp, your skins and your lemon juice and zest.  PLUS a bunch of sugar. 

 Bring this to a boil and let simmer for a while.  I did about 10-15 minutes.  It'll start to get thick and congealed slightly.  Make sure your stir it frequently!

And then, "wa-la":  grape preserves.  As you can see about a cup and a half of grapes only ended up about a half cup of preserves.  But they tasted fantastic.  It also made my kitchen smell amazingly perfumed.  

I recommend, if you have a grape vine, or know where to find one--to try this recipe out.  It doesn't cost a thing but the price of 1 lemon, some sugar (which most of us have on hand anyway) and about 20 minutes of your time.  Of course, if you are going to can them properly it'll take more time--but this is pretty easy if you're just freezing or going to use immediately.  This would be a good addition for anyone who is taking biscuits or scones to a party!

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