We have a grapevine – the native southern grape, muscadine.
Now this may not seem like it matters at all, and for fifteen years it didn’t. It was growing on the back fence when we bought the house in 1997. We left it alone. It grew, the leaves turned a pretty yellow in the autumn. Good children of the South that we are, we knew what muscadines were and what to do with them, we just never paid attention. No pruning. No fertilizing. No attention unless we happened to be in the back of the yard in late summer and ate a few. Last year my husband came inside with a handful of lovely purple muscadines, and said “You know, we have a LOT of these things.”
We picked a couple of quarts, I separated them, but I was sick so in the freezer they went. Nothing happened.
But this year, I was healthier. And there were more grapes. I mean, there were a LOT of grapes. And so it began.
We picked. Greg, having grandparents who grew muscadines, had to keep reminding me to wait until they were black to pick them. They never seemed really black to me, but my guideline was to pick them when the shine disappeared. Click on the picture to see how really lovely they are.
One of my favorite places in the world is Callaway Gardens, which is famous for azaleas and their many delicious muscadine products. (Greg and I were married in the chapel there, but I digress.) I knew what my favorite product was. When we eat at Callaway, I am always drawn to the biscuits and muscadine preserves. Found a recipe or twelve and away I went!
Labor Day weekend I put up 18 jars of preserves. The next weekend I put up 12 more. Each weekend I kept back a cup or so of fresh preserves to eat right away. I was begging people to come pick. My neighbor swears she did, but we couldn’t even see a dent. Another friend came and picked loads, but got them home and realized she was allergic to their grapey smell. To me it smells like the grape juice I loved growing up, but she and her son both reacted – so back the muscadines came. I took two quarts to a coworker.
In all we had four and a half gallons of muscadines. Is this a lot from one vine? I have no idea. Six quarts are still in the freezer unprocessed. The two quarts from last summer were defrosted, but tossed. There was too much fresh to bother with them, since they didn’t smell grapey any longer.
My husband swears he doesn’t want me to touch another grape this season, but I still have six quarts of muscadines. SIX QUARTS OF MUSCADINES! Perhaps some muscadine sauce next?
I don’t pretend to be a recipe blogger, but here’s how I made the preserves after reading lots and lots of online recipes. Despite the length of this post, it was really pretty easy, and I’m not an experienced canner.
First, find some canning jars and lids. My recipe fills six half-pint jars. You can use old jars if the rim of the jar is smooth and crack-free and you can reuse the rings, but lids need to be new. If you live in the city, you may find canning supplies at the grocery store. For your sake, I hope so. After my local Pig sold out, I bought jars at a big box store, where most of the employees had never heard of a canning jar, and the rest had no idea where they were shelved. And if you have a lot of grapes, go ahead and buy one of those ten-pound bags of sugar you’ve always wondered about. I also bought a canning package at a big box store that had canning tongs to lift the jars out of the water, a magnet on a stick to lift the lids out of the boiling water, and a funnel the size of the jar tops. All three proved helpful.
Anyway, before you process the grapes, get the jars ready. I put my jars in the dishwasher to wash, and kept them there so they would be warm when I filled them. I washed my lids and rings, then put them in a pan of water to boil, then cut it back to simmer until I needed them.
I also got my biggest stockpot and filled it about 3/4 full of water, and started it heating. And here we go!
Take two quarts of grapes, and wash them. Set up in the sink, or somewhere else where splattered grape juice won’t matter. Get two empty bowls, a small knife, and your grapes. The goal is to separate the skins from the innards. The most important part is that all the seeds get in one bowl. It doesn’t really matter which bowl gets the juice, but most will end up with the seed sack. To do this I gave each grape a quick slit and a pinch.
Music helps this stage go faster – I hadn’t noticed how much the radio stations played “Blurred Lines” this summer until I started processing grapes. Now when I eat my muscadine preserves, I dance a little and think of Robin Thicke. Okay, back to the cooking.
After separating the grape guts from the skins, put the seed and innards mixture in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 15-18 minutes. Mine had plenty of liquid, but if you need more to keep it from sticking add a bit of water. Give them a little stir now and then to make sure they are not sticking. Stop cooking when the translucent seed sacks break down and release the seeds. I dumped the whole mess in a big strainer I had over the original bowl, and pushed the juice and pulp through with a spatula. A food mill would have been great, but I don’t have one.
While the insides of the grapes are cooking, chop the skins in a food processor or blender. The suggested size for the grape skin is the size you are willing to have on your biscuit, no larger. The skins are not going to break down in cooking, they are just going to get less tough.
Now that your saucepan is empty of grape insides, add the grape skins to the same pan. I needed about 1/2 cup of water to keep them from sticking. Bring to boil, then simmer for 18-20 minutes. You want them soft, or at least not as tough as when you started.
When the skins are ready, add back the seed-free pulp that passed through the strainer. Add 4 cups of sugar. I added a cinnamon stick or two here, as well. Cook over medium heat another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Skim the foam off the top and discard it.
Now, get your canning jars ready! With clean hands, get the jars out of the dishwasher and get six rings out of the simmering water. For me, all went on a clean dish towel. Fill each jar to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. I used the funnel I got with my canning package and a gravy ladle. When all are filled, wipe the rims with a damp paper towel – despite your best efforts, you dripped some and that may cause your seal to fail. Fish out a lid from your simmering water (that magnet on a stick really came in handy) and center it on your jar. Take a ring and screw it down until it is hand-tight.
Now you can! Make sure the water in your stockpot is hot – at least 170 degrees F. Add your jars to the water – there should be at least an inch of water over the top of the jar. Return water to 170 degrees, then after reaching temperature cover the pot and process for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for another 5 minutes. Remove jars to a rack that allows them to cool slowly, out of a direct breeze (that would be the fan I bought to keep from passing out in the kitchen while doing this). While cleaning up, listen for the wonderful sound of success – the jars popping! That means they are sealed, and you succeeded. If one doesn’t pop after a few hours, just put it in the fridge and eat that one first.
Repeat. And enjoy!