Lately I’ve had a little trouble getting motivated to write a post; but after stepping outside on this 40-something degree morning, I decided it is time to talk about grapes.
I don’t know much about tame grapes, but 2013 has been an exceptionally good year for wild grapes. If you live in Kentucky, finding wild grape vines shouldn’t be a problem. We see them everywhere we go. Your best bet would be looking in fence rows, where the grapes don’t have any trees to climb. If you look in the woods, you’ll find them, but you probably won’t be able to reach them.
Also, not all wild grape vines bear fruit. I don’t know much about the biology of grapes, but I have been disappointed by many a barren vine. I had always assumed it had something to do with male and female species, but I recently read that grape vines only bear fruit every 4 years, and that’s why only about one in four vines have fruit. I have no idea if this is true, but it seemed like a logical explanation.
In the spring, you can cook and eat the new young leaves of the wild grape. I have seen recipes for dolmas made with wild grape leaves, but have never tried them myself. Probably because I’ve never eaten a dolma and don’t really know what it is. It’s really just a word I like to say to feel cultured. And speaking of cultured, you can also add the leaves to your pickles while they are fermenting. The tannins in the grape leaves will help keep your pickles crunchy.
The grapes will start to form early in the summer, but don’t fully ripen until fall. It’s a long wait, but it allows plenty of time for scouting. I’ve been told the best time to harvest wild grapes is after the first frost. I usually notice a lot of grapes drying up before then, so if you’re waiting for frost, keep a close eye on them. We are about two or three weeks away from frost, but I decided to go ahead and get an early start so I could write this post before it was too late.
We picked about 3 grocery bags full of grape clusters, which added up to 9 cups of grapes. The most tedious step in this process is picking all the grapes from the clusters. I’d suggest doing this outside, because the clusters can be filled with ants. I’d also suggest using rubber gloves while picking them, as they are very acidic and can burn your skin.
I find that refrigerating the grapes overnight helps remove some of the bitterness. It might all be in my head, but I feel like they taste a little sweeter after they chill. (This is probably the reason for waiting until after first frost to harvest.)
You can make wild grape jelly using any grape jelly recipe. The only real difference is that wild grapes are smaller and less juicy than most tame grapes, so they will require more water in the juice making process. I would recommend starting with 9 cups of grapes to 2 1/2 cups water, then adding more water later to dilute it to your taste. Boil the grapes down for several minutes in the water, mashing them as you stir, then strain through a mesh strainer. Taste the juice and see if it’s to your liking. Mine was super concentrated at this point, so I added another cup of water. So altogether I used 9 cups grapes, 3 1/2 cups water. I ended up with about 5 1/2 cups of juice. Just enough for my jelly.
If you’ve never made jelly before, don’t be intimidated. It’s not as complicated as it looks. I’m not going to get into the details, because this post is already getting wordy, and there are thousands of tutorial videos and posts online that are significantly better than any instructions I could give you. I included a link to one of many great tutorial videos at the bottom of this post.
Wild Grape Juice:
- 9 cups wild grapes
- 2 1/2+ cups water
In a large saucepan, bring grapes and 2 1/2 cups water to a boil. Continue boiling ten minutes, mashing the grapes as they boil. Remove from heat and strain through a mesh strainer or squeeze through a cheesecloth to remove seeds and pulp. Add additional water to desired taste.
Wild Grape Jelly:
- 5 cups grape juice
- 1 packet pectin powder (6 Tbsp.)
- 7 cups sugar
Combine juice and pectin powder in a large pot. Bring to a hard boil over high heat, boil for one full minute, stirring constantly.
Add sugar to the pot, bring back to a hard boil, and continue boiling for another full minute stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and skim foam from the top.
Ladle jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 in. of head space. Wipe down rims and seal jars with lids and rings.
Process jars in water bath for 10 minutes.
If you are new to the water bath canning process, click here for an instructional video.