Domestic Goddess is a curious term that conjures angst in some women. I prefer to think of it this way: I am domestic at times, yes. And damn right I am a goddess. End of explanation.
Now I know I’m stepping into volatile territory with this statement, but outside of wine, one of the greatest gifts from the gods is grape jelly. Not that vomit-inducing crap from any jar in a grocery store, but the kind that is homemade with love from Concord grapes. For you winos, try pairing your next cheese platter with some homemade grape jelly for the best of both grape worlds.
From hence forth, you may call me
Goddess of Grape.
If you don’t grow your own grapes like we folk here in the North Country do (if only you could hear the accent that should accompany this), then try your local farmer’s market. Or beg someone who does grow them. For me, it’s a trek down the back slope of our property to capture these lovely little treats. Every year when I post this picture I get offers to come help stomp, but no one gets it. The wine I would make would likely make you wish you were dead the next day, but the grape jelly you’ll get at Christmas will brighten your morning like nothing else can, and it will liven up many a morning. Deathly Hangover or Happy Mornings? Take your pick.
It was unusually warm and dry here this summer, and we got a bumper crop. It takes about 3 1/2 lbs to make a batch of jelly – and this crop will likely make 3-4 batches. 90% likely to become gifts – lucky friends I have.
Here’s what a Concord grape looks like up close, if you’ve never seen one before. They’re almost perfectly globe shaped, and when you pop them in your mouth, the explosion of sweet/tart you will get is wonderful:
Follow directions if you’ve never made this jelly before. Seriously, buy the box of Sure Jell or Certo and read the insert. It’s that easy. It’s how I started over 20 years ago. Don’t tell me you can’t make jam or jelly. All you need is a big stock pot, a wide-mouthed funnel, a spoon and ladle, and some jars. And in grape jelly’s sake, a good food mill or lots of cheesecloth. All available at your local grocery or Wally World.
As per the directions, add some water and smash the grapes inside your stockpot. Yes, the insides of Concord grapes are green. And very, very seedy. Bring to boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Your house will smell amazing.
The green guts quickly give in to the dye in the skins, and you have the beginnings of purple liquid gold.
Tip from the Goddess here: WATCH this seedy concoction as it begins to boil. It will foam up fast, and if you’re not there to stir it down, you will have a massive mess on your stove. Put it this way, I make sure I do my canning before my cleaning lady comes, and that’s even after I’ve done a thorough cleanup of my mess… I always leave her some as a consolation. It’s a fair trade off, we both agree.
Once this has simmered for 10 minutes, this is where you choose your path. Cheesecloth or food mill. You can be a purist and go the cheesecloth route – your juice will be clear and ‘debris’ free. What debris, you ask? Small amounts of residual skin and pulp. Here’s the thing, though. Cheesecloth drips can take for-ev-ver. My husband bought an ancient food mill at an antique show years ago – he came prancing in the house like he’d won the lotto, saying, “Look what I got you.” I just stared at him stone-faced. Mind you, both our children were pre-teen at this stage, what in Hell did I need a food mill for? Needless to say, it sat in the basement collecting dust for years.
After a particularly long and messy grape juice drip session one year, I figured I only had grapes to lose, so I pulled out that dusty mill and washed her up. I dumped in the seedy mess above,
and what came out in less than 10 minutes was the purple glory below. Not the hours, and hours, and hours, and hours, etc. of before. Yes, there was a small bit of debris in the juice, as you can see, but it’s a dark jelly. Truth be told, you can’t see it or feel it in the juice after it goes through the next few boiling sessions.
Tip from the Goddess here: Go ahead and be a purist with the drip method, but my tip for sanity – find an ancient food mill with small holes, especially when you have a dark jelly like this. You’ll thank me later.
I normally use powered pectin. Once you have the necessary amounts of juice, to this purple goodness, add your powdered pectin. If you’re adding liquid pectin, read the directions. You add liquid pectin at a different stage. Stir and bring to a rolling boil.
Tip from the Goddess here: Wear an apron. A full rolling boil means a boil that you cannot stir down. It quickly becomes an angry, seething mess. So this means you have to stir, and stir, and stir until your arm muscles hurt, and then stir some more while this mixture get really angry. And when the juice and pectin get angry, it pops. All. Over. The. Place.
Another tip from the Goddess here: Measure out your sugar at the start of the jelly making process. Made that mistake a few times. It equals tons more mess to clean up from popping juice since you’re having to measure sugar as the boiling caldron of sweet nectar spits everywhere. Also, if you boil too long at any stage, you risk having a hard set – like your knife will become Excalibur when you try to stick it in your jelly kinda hard set. I measure my sugar into a pitcher beforehand, and then dump it all in at once.
It seems like a lot of sugar, and it is. However, it’s healthier than the chemical crap that’s in most mass produced jelly. If you’re seriously worried about the amount of sugar, go with the low sugar box of Sure Jell, but from experience, I will tell you five things:
Aka Tip from the Goddess Here:
- There’s still a good amount of sugar that goes into low sugar recipes.
- It never has set the same for me. It has a different texture and color to me.
- It tastes different.
- Trust me, there’s a chemical reason it sets different and needs less sugar.
- I’ve tossed more matches of low sugar recipes because of not setting up (even after remake) and not sealing because of a funky chemical reaction (even after the appropriate amount of time in a water bath).
In my ever so humble opinion, stick with the real taste of the grape that comes in the original Sure Jell & Certo boxes. Just go for a walk after breakfast if you’re concerned about the amount of sugar you just consumed.
After the sugar is added, you need to bring the mixture to another rolling boil. And do not leave this mixture.
Tip from the Goddess here: Call this a lesson learned (every tip comes from a lesson learned, actually)- stir this juice, pectin, and sugar mixture very, very often while it’s coming to a boil. If left to set, it will become like a volcano ready to explode, and when you do stir it, it will explode from agitation, and boiling hot grape juice on your face or in your eye sucks. While the above picture is blurry, this is because it’s at the angry rolling boil point, and it’s being stirred. Constantly. Boil this for 1 minute (did I say stirring constantly), and you’re on to the canning part.
You know your loveliness is ready when it sheets – the jelly sticks to the spoon and the drip hangs.
Skim off any foam that has developed with a metal spoon. It will easily skim off the top.
Tip from the Goddess here: If the recipe says you can add butter to prevent foaming in the making, then butter is your friend. Use. It.
In the picture below, you can also see how little of the ‘debris’ is left after the mixture goes through several boiling points. It becomes a silky mixture, like the one below:
Move quickly when you’re canning, as a good set will happen quickly sometimes.
Seal these babies in a boil bath, and you have one of the great gifts of Dionysus. No one has ever died from my canned goods – if I can time things correctly, I sterilize my jars, take them from the hot dishwasher, to the canning, and hot seal the jars. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t do it. If you do, don’t shoot me (you likely do it, anyways). Like I said, no one has died from my canning processes.
Yes, this is a time consuming process, but one that has immense rewards for so many reasons. I used to think Stonewall Kitchen’s jams and jellies were really good. Then I started making my own. Trust me when I say two words make a world of difference in taste – small batch. Once anything becomes mass produced, taste changes.
And if you haven’t swiped a piece of bread or a cracker through the bottom of the pan of warm grape jelly, there’s an argument that you might not have fully lived. Only those who go through this process are rewarded with this delicacy.
And 9 batches later – yes 9 – I will gladly change my title to Queen, thank you very much. And I haven’t even begun to tackle the green grapes.
Now go be a domestic goddess! Go!