It is almost school time, and in some states, has already started. That means it is the time of year when grapes ripen and are ready to be picked and enjoyed. Across our country there are many different names for the grapes in their area. In the south and mid-south they are called muscadines. Along the mid-atlantic I think they are called fox grapes. I am not sure the names in other areas. Something most people don’t know is that this family of grapes is the only grape that is native to North America. All the other grapes you see in the stores are imports. They have been brought to our country and raised. Even the wine making grapes are imports.
Whatever you call your wild or native grapes they all have the same thing in common. They are all very similar in make up. They usually have a skin that is a little thick all the way to very thick. A wonderful, juicy part next and seeds in the center. The most famous of these grapes is the Concord Grape. That is the dark purple grape that the juice in the grocery store is made from. Welch‘s has made a huge business from this type of grape. They have now added another grape juice, a white grape juice.
On one of our trips to North Georgia to get apples we stumbled across a rare treasure. We were buying apples at our usual orchard and one of the owners daughters was setting up a card table outside their apple barn. She had a nice red checkered table-cloth and a sign on poster board. The sign said grapes for sale. We asked her what kind of grapes and she said she didn’t know. They didn’t look like muscadines growing in the back of the orchard. She said they were round and real sweet and juicy. Mary Lynn asked if she could taste one, and the little girl said sure. When Mary Lynn put one in her mouth I saw a spark in her eyes. I have seen that many times before and I knew it meant to buy! I asked how much the grapes cost, she said that she had not decided. She asked what we would pay. I had to chuckle to myself, this girl was going far in the business world. Next I asked how many grapes did she have and she said she picked a cooler full. It was a medium size cooler that many of you have, blue with a flip top with a handle and wheels to make pulling it easier. She opened the lid and she had put the grapes in bags after washing them. She had 10 small bags she wanted to sell. I asked her if she would take $25 for all the grapes. Her eyes burst wide open and a big smile came on her face. She said she would have to ask her dad. He returned with her and said that maybe we offered her a little too much. I said she had taken the time to pick all the grapes, then wash them and dry them, bag them and put into a cooler to keep them fresh. We thought she had earned that price. She looked up at him and he nodded his head OK. She jumped up and down she was so happy. He later told us she thought she might get $10 for her grapes. We took the grapes back to our store and put them in our cooler. The next day our friend from the department of agriculture stopped by for our semi-monthly inspection. He tasted one of the grapes and said we had wild concord grapes. We told him the area the grapes came from and he said that there were small clusters of those grapes all over the area. We took those grapes and made some of the most awesome jelly, jam and grape butter.
For our cooking today I am going to use Muscadine Grapes. You can just substitute your grapes in place of the word muscadine. Then make the product according to the recipe. This will give you ______ Jelly or ________ Jam and finally _______Preserves.
The grapes that we have in the south, muscadines, have many different varieties, some brown, some a golden color and some dark purple almost black. One of the varieties of muscadines is called Scuppernongs. Most southerners think it is a different grape, it is not. I think the total varieties number around fifteen.
Muscadine Jelly is first on our list. There are many different ways to get juice for making jelly from grapes. The most common is washing the grapes then putting them in a large cooking pot with about enough water to cover the grapes 1/4 inch. Slowly raise the heat to a boil and the grapes will bust open and you will have a pot full of grape pulp and juice. Many just put in a kitchen strainer then cheese cloth. Don’t throw away the hulls, they will be used later.
Another method is to fill a small pressure cooker about 3/4 with a small amount of water in the pot. Seal the top on tightly and bring it to a boil. Bring it up to temperature slowly so that the check valve does not go crazy. Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. When the pressure has gone down, remove the check valve and open the pot. The heat and pressure wrings out the juice from the pulp. Then you strain to get the juice. Either way of cooking works great. The juice will have a color like the skin of the grape.
Take 4 cups of prepared muscadine juice, 7 cups cane sugar, 1 pack pectin. Add juice and pectin, mix in cooking pot. Bring to full boil, add sugar. Bring back to full rolling boil (a boil that does not stop when stirred). Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Let sit a couple of minutes to settle. Then skim the top to remove any unwanted particles and foam. Carefully ladle into prepared jars (washed and dried). Fill to with 1/4 inch of top (usually the bottom ring on the top). Place sterile domes on top carefully then add rings. Tighten rings, but don’t over tighten. Too tight and the air will not be able to escape. Not tight enough and water will leak in. Place jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes, start your timer when the water comes back to a boil. Make sure jars don’t touch the bottom, a boiling pot for canning has a rack for this purpose. The rack also lets you remove the jars easily. Cost is about $20 or less, so the price is worth it. Place the jars on a rack or towel. Let sit over night. Check for unsealed jars in morning (these jars have to have new domes and be boiled 10 minutes again).
You now have a very special taste treat. Home made grape jelly. With peanut butter it makes a sandwich that you can live on. I know this because I have lived on this sandwich for soon to be 63 years. A few other things help, but the backbone was PBJ’s.
Muscadine Jam. With the hulls left over from straining to get juice, carefully remove the seeds. Use a food sieve to grind the pulp and remove the seeds. I know this is a tiresome task, but the results are worth it. Use a food processor or cuisinart to chop hulls to prepare them to cook.
Use 6 cups chopped muscadine hulls, 6 cups cane sugar. Combine in a cooking pot and cook slowly for 15 minutes. Be sure to stir while cooking, this will stick and burn easily. Carefull ladle into prepared jars. Process as above.
You now have a jam like no other. It has the taste of the jelly, but also the taste of the hulls. Many people don’t eat the hulls of the Muscadine when they are eating them raw. They just squeeze them into their mouth and spit out the seed. They throw the hull away. I don’t do that, I eat the whole grape minus the seeds. Because of this I like the jam better than I do the jelly.
Something that is valuable to me cooking things like this is a food press. Also a wide mouth funnel is not expensive but keeps accidents from happening. Neither cost much, but are worth their weigh in ?? (I used to say gold, but with the price of gold today. Got to come up with another reference point).
Muscadine Preserves. Use 6 cups whole hulls, not chopped. Add 6 cups cane sugar. Mix and put into a crook pot. Let cook on the lowest heat over night. In the morning, turn off and remove the lid and stir. This will allow the extra moisture to evaporate. Ladel into jars and process as about. If you look closely you can see small hulls in the jars.
One more thing about muscadines, if you have a fruit press (I am not sure many of you do). Squeeze the grapes and use the juice to make Muscadine wine. Here in Georgia about as many people make wine as make the jelly. They just crush the grapes and strain with cheese cloth. I hate to say this, but after crushing the grape and draining a couple of times they throw the grape remains in the pig pen to feed the hogs and pigs. They could have made jam from the remains.
As you can see, Native American Grapes have many uses and give great comfort and joy to all who eat, and drink them.
In response to so many requests, Mary Lynn and I are starting back with our production and sales of a limited number of our most popular items. We are going to be selling thru a website that is in production now. Hopefully we will have everything ready to open for business in a couple of weeks. I will keep you posted on our progress.
This will give you the chance to compare our products with the things you are making at home. Keep watching and reading.
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