Concord Grape Juice

Storm’s comin!

New England has been battening down for Tropical Storm Hermine. So far she hasn’t brought much more than a dreary break in the stunning fall weather, but Monday had some high winds that got me worried about the fruit in the garden. The perimeter fence has a few big old concord grape vines that belong to no one in particular. This year I decided (with the garden manager’s permission, mind you) that at least some of them belong to me. So I braved the pre-Hermine gusts and rescued the ripest ones.

I didn’t weigh at the time, but I’d guess I picked about ten pounds.

some_text

My initial plan was to make a big batch of wine. The king of concord grape wine is Manischewitz, which I’ve always had a soft spot for because it tastes just like grape juice. I followed that logic and asked myself: wouldn’t it be nicer just to have grape juice?

Yes it would.

My parents have made grape juice for years. I think it might be my grandmother’s recipe. The jars line a shelf in the basement, and a couple always get brought up for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Gosh is it good. The ingredients, emailed by my mom, are:

  • 1 heavy cup concord grapes
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • boiling water

And that’s it! Since it’s not fermented, it has to be processed in the canner. I heated up a bunch of quart jars to sanitize them.

some_text

I dealt with the jars one at a time. I removed one from the canner, dumped in the sugar and grapes, and filled it almost to the top with boiling water. The water turned out to be the limiting factor, since my kettle only held three jars’ worth.

some_text

The jar full, I fitted the screw top lid and put it back in the canner. Once all the jars were done, I added more water so the jars were completely submerged. I raised the heat to a hard boil, put the lid on the canner, and processed for 20 minutes. During those 20 minutes I made an unsettling discovery – my canner is so big it has to straddle two burners, and with the water high enough to cover the quart jars, it spills over the sides… straight onto the open gas flames below. Twice I had to turn off a burner when the flame went out completely. I can’t imagine this is good for the stove, and it sure wasn’t good for my peace of mind. Maybe I’ll have to invest in an outdoor camp stove.

some_text

I processed two batches, making for a dozen jars and 3 gallons of juice. At this point I ran out of quart jars (and patience watching for gas leaks). I had about 3 1/2 pounds of grapes left, so I mixed them up with some sugar and yeast. We’ll have about a gallon of knockoff Manischewitz after all!

There are three distinct layers in the jars, but I have it on good authority from my mom that this is normal: “Do not stir or shake the juice. You’ll think you’ve screwed up because the grapes and sugar will sit in the bottom. As times passes, the grapes will move, the sugar dissolve, and the juice turn pink/red.”

Well, my grapes are on the top. Hopefully that doesn’t matter.

some_text

Of the twelve jars, one didn’t seal properly for some reason. Since I can’t store it, I’ll just have to drink it. I shook it up to mix in the sugar and poured a glass. It’s not as dark or as strong as the goal, but the taste is perfect. Three gallons may not be enough.

some_text

Glass courtesy of Endless Brewing, my beloved hometown brewery. Go see them and tell them I sent you. You probably won’t get a free beer, but you’ll almost definitely get a smile of recognition. And the beer is worth it.

A Sudden Windfall

20150821_111357_HDRThere are six gallons of mead on my cellar floor.

I thought I fixed a faulty spigot. It turns out I didn’t.

But let’s not focus on the bad things. At least not until I’ve thoroughly mopped. Because plenty of good things are happening. I racked the lavender and raspberry meads, and they both taste very good. So does the mulberry wine. My Kazakh melon vine has taken way off, and I might actually get to see what its fruit tastes like before the frost.

And I have recently come into a huge amount of fruit.

Keri of kombucha fame let me in on a hot tip: Her fruit tree-obsessed landlord was away on vacation and the yard was getting littered with windfall fruit. He’d given her permission to go in and clear it up a little. If anything, we were performing an important service.

This tiny backyard orchard has plums, pears, and a few varieties of apple. It even has apples and pears growing out of the same trunk, because this old Portuguese landlord I’ve never met is an avid amateur grafter.

The ground was, as promised, littered with fallen fruit. Some had been there for quite a while, but some was brand new. While we were there I got startled more than once by a pear crashing down behind me. 20150821_105750_HDRWe waded around in the wet grass, getting devoured by mosquitoes and sorting the fruit into usable and unusable. The former we split between ourselves and the latter we composted. In the end I think I had something like six pounds each of apples and pears and a couple pounds of plums. And I was supposed to go away to Cape Cod for a week the next day. Cue frantic preservation. 20150821_160712_HDRI was saved by the fact that a lot of the pears weren’t completely ripe yet. I was… reasonably confident that they and the unbruised apples would last a week. But where to keep them? The house was hot, the refrigerator was at capacity, and I still hadn’t recovered from discovering my cellar mangoes full of little rodent toothmarks. Rationalizing that they were free anyway, I sealed them in a five gallon bucket in the cellar and tried not to think any more about it. 20150821_232313_HDRThe remaining apples and pears had some serious holes and bruises, and the plums were so ripe they were dissolving into my table as tried to figure out what to do with them. I’d never made preserves before, but I decided to take a stab. After some over-the-phone reassurance from my mother that I’ve eaten unprocessed jam my whole life and am no worse for wear, I sealed the preserves hot in sterilized old jam jars rather than processing them in the canner. 20150901_160639_HDRThe four light jars are apple and pear, heavy on the pear. The single dark jar is all that’s left of the plums after I ate quite a few. Apple butter was also on the menu. I found a great recipe for overnight apple butter, set the slow cooker on its way, and woke up the next morning to the smell of charcoal and cinnamon. It was not meant to be. 20150901_162219_HDROne week older and a tiny bit tanner, I opened up the bucket and was pleasantly surprised. There was some moisture on the sides and a touch of fuzz on a few stems, but no sign of the writhing mass of worms or near-sentient mold I’d envisioned. I had just enough pears for a gallon and a half of wine. It was meant to be a gallon, but I found myself with extra, and the man at the brew supply store made fun of me the other day for being small beans. 20150908_171547_HDRWith the remaining apples I attempted slow cooker apple butter number two. This time I added plenty of apple juice to keep it moist and woke up to…20150902_090559_HDR…Charcoal and cinnamon. It just wasn’t meant to be.