Sunday, October 10, 2010

Grape expectations

Have you ever done anything completely on a whim?  The other day, I was driving home after visiting family in Wisconsin, and I stopped at Bauder's Market in La Crescent, MN, to buy a bag of apples.  And to my delight, I discovered a table full of Concorde grapes.  Grapes! 

I've been wanting to make homemade grape jelly ever since I started learning more about Iowa's grape industry.  Back in the early 1900s, Iowa was one of the top grape producers in the country.  Every farm had a grapevine in the backyard for making jelly and juice.  Then during World War II, there was a severe blizzard, known as the Armistice Day freeze, that killed off many of the state's grapevines and apple trees.

Today, Iowa's grape industry is making a comeback, as the number of vineyards and wineries is growing every year.  But I still haven't figured out a place where I can buy Concorde grapes, and I don't have enough sun in my shady backyard to grow grapes.

So when I saw these babies at the Minnesota produce market, I wanted to squeal in delight (but I didn't -- I didn't want the other customers to give me strange looks). 

Let me tell you, these grapes smelled so good!  I had no ideas that grapes could smell so fragrant, not at all like the supermarket grapes.  The Concordes actually smelled like grape bubblegum, which is funny, because I never understood why grape bubblegum tastes nothing like real grapes.  Now I know, it actually does!

I've never made jelly before, and I didn't realize it was such a time-consuming effort.  First, I mushed the grapes in my food mill, which helped to separate most of the seeds and grape skins.  Then I strained the remaining pulp from the juice by covering a cotton T-shirt (I didn't have cheesecloth) over a sieve, which I placed over a larger bowl.

After three hours, only half of the juice had dripped through the T-shirt.  My husband attempted to squeeze the juice through the T-shirt by hand, but then he tipped the sieve over, and the unstrained juice got mixed with the strained juice.  I tried not to get mad, but I was pretty upset that 3 hours of waiting was now a waste.  But my husband promised to make it up to me.  He re-strained the juice, and after 3 hours, I finally had a 4-cup batch of clear juice.

I then proceeded to follow the recipe for grape jelly in the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning.  This was by far the easiest part of the process; it took less than an hour.  And the result: a beautiful, flavorful, homemade batch of grape jelly!  Success at last!

This little kitchen adventure was so worth the time and effort.  Everytime I look at these jars, I get such a sense of accomplishment.

I would love to find a place in Iowa that sells Concorde grapes in the fall.  Do any of you know where I can find them?  I would love to make grape jelly again next year.


  1. That jar of jelly is a work of art. It just glows.

  2. Thanks! I took the picture after sunset, so the only way I could find good light was to lift the jelly jar in front of my lamp :)


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