Backyard grape arbors are a common site throughout the Deep South. Our Southern climate doesn’t support the growth and proliferation of but a few varieties of grapes. But the ones that do grow in our climate are as strong as bulls. Once they establish, they’ll probably outlive you.
Muscadines and scuppernongs are our Southern grapes. I love those names. They ring a little differently than more commonly known wine grapes such as merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon. They sound just like my heritage: strong, unpretentious, full of character.
We have a small muscadine arbor in our backyard. After moving to our house, I couldn’t sit still until I got the vine planted. Southern grapes have been grown by various members of my family dating back to as far as we date back.
Muscadines and scuppernongs make fine wine grapes, although, my family were teetotalers so the grapes were strictly grown for eating and for jelly…..as far as we know. The flavor is as unique as the names. It’s somewhat tart and musky. I find the color of the jelly stunning. So much so, I almost want to set my jars of jelly around as decorations.
My people grew more scuppernongs than muscadines which may have been a matter of choice. The taste of the fruit and hardiness of the vine are very similar. Scuppernongs, which they pronounced “skuppa-nahns” are a golden bronze color and muscadines are purplish black.
Our harvest this year yielded less than normal. Production was about the same as usual but between the strong rain storms that knocked off lots of the fruit and the happy birds and squirrel that filled their bellies, we were left with much less usable fruit. A pair of Brown Thrashers built their nest in the vines. That’s like setting up a nursery in the grocery store.
We gathered 2 gallons of grapes, enough for me to make about 12 half pints of jelly. So, let’s get down to it.
We have to extract the juice first. Wash and pick over the grapes, place in a large stockpot and covered with an inch of water. I used the colander insert in the stockpot to make straining the juice easier. Bring to a medium boil and leave uncovered. As soon as they began to split, I mashed them with my Granny’s potato masher.
I let them continue boiling for about 25 minutes. Next, the juice needs to be drained AND strained. Take out all the solids and strain it through cheesecloth. It’s very important that you let it strain through cheesecloth by gravity, don’t press on the cloth. You don’t want any solids to be in the juice. That will keep your jelly a little cloudy. It won’t affect the taste, just the appearance. Jelly is meant to be clear, jams and preserves have portions of the fruit in them.
After the juice has been extracted, store in the refrigerator for up to one week if it’s not going to be used immediately. I like to extract the juice one day and make the jelly the next day or two. It breaks up the job. If you store the juice in the refrigerator prior to jelly making, strain it again through cheesecloth to remove crystals that may have formed.
I took classes in food preservation last year. My take away from the class was the fact that it’s a miracle that our Mamas, Grandmamas and Aunt Beas didn’t kill us all dead from botulism poisoning. Our knowledge of food science and food preservation has come a long way. You must be particular in your method and follow the recipe and canning methods diligently.
My go to source for canning information is So Easy to Preserve published by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
Writing this post makes me happy. I love the pictures of muscadines, jelly and Granny’s potato masher. I only wish you could have been in the kitchen with me to smell the jelly as it was cooking.
Y’all come see us!
source: So Easy to Preserve, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
yield: 3 t0 4 half-pint jars
Follow the instructions in the narrative on juice extraction. It will take between 20 to 30 minutes to bring the juice up to 220 degrees. Be patient. If you skip this step, the jelly may not jell. Only make one batch at the time.
4 cups muscadine juice
1 (1.75 ounce) box powdered pectin (I use Sure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin)
3 cups sugar
Wash canning jars in soapy water. Rinse and sterilize by boiling for 10 minutes. Keep hot until ready for use. Wash lids and rings and place in a small pot. Bring up to a boil and then let simmer until ready for use.
Mix juice and powdered pectin in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add sugar all at once, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly until mixture reaches 220 degrees (or 8 degrees above boiling point if you’re in high altitudes) or until the mixture coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims and adjust lids.
Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
Remove jars and set on a kitchen towel. Let them sit for 12 hours undisturbed.
- 4 cups muscadine juice
- 1 1.75 ounce box powdered pectin (I use Sure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin)
- 3 cups sugar
- Wash canning jars in soapy water. Rinse and sterilize by boiling for 10 minutes. Keep hot until ready for use. Wash lids and rings and place in a small pot. Bring up to a boil and then let simmer until ready for use.
- Mix juice and powdered pectin in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add sugar all at once, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly until mixture reaches 220 degrees (or 8 degrees above boiling point if you’re in high altitudes) or until the mixture coats the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
- Pour jelly immediately into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims and adjust lids.
- Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.
- Remove jars and set on a kitchen towel. Let them sit for 12 hours undisturbed.