Wine Grape Jelly

Looking at these pictures feels like 100 years ago.  I got busy and meant to write this up about a month ago, and then….  here we are, in November, post frost. But, you know, pretend there are still grapes around or bookmark this for next fall… The jelly turned out so good, perfect with peanut butter and wheat bread.  There are certainly some fancy pairings you can do as well; the surprisingly delicate flavor of this jelly would be lovely on a cheese plate with some soft chevre and a loaf of good bread.

During the annual whirlwind of activity that takes place immediately before the first rains of the fall, my friend Jessie, from Inland Ranch Organics, let me glean some of the wine grapes from her field.  I took home a big basket of red and white grapes, slightly blemished with some mold in spots but perfectly salvageable for  jelly. After an absurd amount of soul-searching  (absolutely unwarranted for making a batch of jelly) I decided to break out the boxed pectin for this one. I’ve turned into a pectin snob when it comes to almost all of my jams — once you taste a jar of perfectly made, no added pectin apricot jam, you won’t feel like you need to put in commercial pectin anymore.  The texture is just so …. luxurious. It can be difficult to keep the flavor really bright since the cooking time is longer, but when it works, man oh man oh man does it work.  For jelly, though, even though I’ve had some success with making quince and apple with no added pectin, I just really don’t like how much sugar you have to add to make it set (most jellies with no added pectin use a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar.)  Plus, making jelly without commercial pectin is so temperamental.  I’ve overcooked and caramelized a few batches, where they set but have totally lost the fresh fruit flavor, and it makes me want to stomp around the kitchen and smash all my dishes on the floor.

Instead of having to replace all those plates, I caved and went for the sure-gel low sugar pectin from the grocery store.  I encourage other pectin snobs to do the same when it comes to some of the fruit jellies.  It’s so much easier. You know your jelly will turn out really nice. And it’s not too sweet, so you taste grape juice instead of sugar. Wine Grape Jelly 

I was really surprised by the flavor.  It’s delicious, but I was expecting something closer to concord grapes.  The juice ended up being more delicate because I used a mixture of both red and white wine grapes.  I assume that the bolder the flavor you want, the fewer white wine grapes you should include.

Instead of acting like this is complicated and writing out a traditional recipe, I’d rather just share the process here, since the most difficult element is certainly finding a person growing wine grapes who will let you have some, not making the actual jelly.

You’ll need:

  • wine grapes
  • sugar
  • lemon juice
  • sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • cheesecloth or a jelly bag
  • half pint jars

1. Get your hands on some wine grapes.  Gleaning is a good idea, since most grape growers only pick the big, perfect bunches and will leaves behind lots of small straggly ones. As with all gleaned fruit, the grapes can be slightly blemished, but make sure that there are still plenty of grapes that are fresh and ripe looking, since it’s really not a good idea to try and preserve semi- rotten fruit.

2. Pick through the grapes, separating the stems, leaves and blemished ones aside from the good ones that will be for the jelly.  Put the good grapes in a colander and rinse them thoroughly.

3. Transfer the grapes to a pot and add water just to cover them.  Simmer the grapes for about an hour.  (Lust after steam juicers on the internet while they cook.)

4. Drain this mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth. The resulting grape juice can be left in the fridge for jelly making on another day or frozen for projects later in the winter.

5. To make the jelly: follow the instructions for grape jelly from the sure-gel low sugar pectin box, but add 2 oz. of lemon juice for each batch.  (Just stir it in at the beginning).   Waterbath can according to the instructions in the pectin box.

6. Take a walk in the woods and look at salamanders, and think about how exciting it is that you have this free time now since you didn’t try to make no-added pectin jelly. Make a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. Think about how tasty homemade canned goods are. Be happy. 



Rhubarb Is Basically The Best Thing Ever

This jelly was a small-batch experiment, and it came out great.  If you are a pie person, you must make this.  It tastes like, well, it tastes like the gooey stuff in rhubarb pie that’s not the fruit part or the crust- the stuff in between the strawberries and the rhubarb.  It’s tangy and sweet, with a good punch of lemon from all the fresh lemon juice. And since it’s jelly and not pie, somehow it falls into the “socially acceptable to eat for breakfast” category.

I’m definitely going to make this again in much larger batches and with a little bit of tweaking (maybe some cinnamon?), but this recipe is a perfect jumping off point.  Plus, there’s absolutely no added pectin, and whenever I make jelly without added pectin I feel like I’ve really accomplished something big in my life.

Rhubarb Jelly

makes: 1/2 pt. (plus a little extra)


  • 1 c. chopped rhubarb
  • 1 lb. crabapples, chopped in half
  • 6 c. water
  • 1/3 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 c. sugar

1. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the rhubarb, apples and water.  Cover, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.  Your whole house will smell like freshly chopped rhubarb and it will be amazing.

2. Transfer the cooked fruit and water mixture in a jelly bag to strain for 12 hours, if you have one.  You could also use cheesecloth.  I don’t have either of those things right now and I hate spending money, so I do it this way:

A picture is worth a thousand words, but let me try to explain what I did in much fewer than that…  Grab yourself a clean pillowcase (unless you want fun stuff in your jelly) and slip it over a large, nonreactive pot. Twist the base of the pillowcase and fasten with a rubber band or some tape. Pour the cooked fruit and liquid mixture into the pot.  The cooked fruit will stay on top of the pillowcase and a rich, flavorful juice will slowly drip into the pot.  Put the lid on top of the pot (but don’t press down on the fruit or the jelly will get cloudy later) and leave it to sit for 12 hours.

3. After 12 hours is up, undo the pillowcase and lift it off of the pot.  You could save the mushy fruit for making muffins or breads, but I fed mine to the chickens (because there’s only 24 hours in a day and I already made jelly, damn it. I don’t want to make muffins too).  You should be left with a really wonderful, aromatic juice.

4. Bring your boiling water canner to a boil.  In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the rhubarb juice with the sugar and lemon juice, and cook on high until it reaches around 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (ha! I don’t have one of those either, and I make jam professionally).  If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can do the frozen plate test, like me. Put a few small plates or bowls in the freezer before you start cooking the jelly.  When the jelly is really boiling like crazy and you think it might be ready, put a teaspoon of jelly onto one of the frozen plates.  Wait 30 seconds.  Run your finger across the jelly on the plate.  If it’s ready, your finger will make a wrinkly line through the cold jelly on the plate.  If the jelly just stays liquid and there’s no wrinkling, cook it for another few minutes and try again.

5. Ladle the jelly into clean, hot jars. Wipe rims clean, and screw on lids.  Process half-pint jars for 5 minutes, unless you want to eat it right now, in which case you should go get a spoon.  Happy canning!

NOTE: This recipe was just a very small test batch, which I always do when I am finding new jams and jellies to bring to the farmers market.  When I make it next time, probably in a month or two when there’s more rhubarb in the garden, I will definitely double or triple it, which I would encourage anyone with enough rhubarb to do, since getting one jar of jelly can be kind of anti-climactic.