Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Easiest Grape Juice in the World, and Joy!

I started this entry last year and never posted it.... And guess what? It's almost juice time again. yes, it's only mid-August, but we've had crazy-hot weather this year, and everything's about a month early. So here you go: my favorite recipe for a super-easy grape juice that is light but flavorful and oh-so-simple.

Today I bought a crate of Concord grapes and started my annual grape-juice making. Something comes over me 'long around mid-September. Surrounded by the fruits of farm and field, I'm seized with the urge to fill the larder and prepare for the winter ahead. Some of this is about the magickal me, for my Pagan-Druid rhythms sing loud in the autumn and leave me feeling like a slightly frazzled-but-uber-connected Earth Mother. Even more, I suspect, comes to me honestly from my mom and grandmother, a natural effect of many summers and autumns spent baking and canning at their sides. In any case, the Concords have become my own personal symbol of the season-- a harbinger of the harvest, if you will. And so I stopped by my favorite local greengrocer this morning and bought a crate of them, and then I got home and rounded up my jars and kettle and set to work.

  • Disclaimer: This isn't intended to be a tutorial in home canning. If you don't have much experience with canning, I suggest becoming familiar with the process before tackling this recipe. The Ball home canning guide is a great place to begin.
You're probably imagining that making grape juice is a lot of work-- and true, the traditional method involves cooking the grapes and then straining and/or pressing out the juice and then adding sugar and cooking them some more and then (finally) canning them. Interspersed with this approach are worries about sugar ratios and concentration and clarity and foam skimming and more.

That method is way too much work for me.

Instead, I'd like to share a recipe I found a few years ago in an Amish cookbook. I love it because it's quick, ridiculously easy, and yields a delicious result. Here's how it works.

You'll need: Concord grapes (about 2/3 lb. grapes per intended quart of juice (that's about 1 cup of whole grapes), and these must be Concords); white sugar,; and Mason-style home canning jars with screw-top lids. You can prepare pints or quarts.

Set your oven to 180-200 degrees and put your jars and lids in there to heat. Set up your canning kettle and rack; fill about 3/4 full of water and bring to a boil. Fill a second large pan with water and bring that to a boil, too.

Wash the grapes and pull them off the stems. Don't worry about peeling, seeding, or drying them. You don't have to smash or chop or crush them, either, and if bits of stem end up mixed in, that's okay, too. Remember: this is easy!

For each quart: remove the hot jar from the oven and add 1 C. washed grapes and 1/4 C. sugar. Fill with boiling water from the second kettle. Screw the lid and ring on "finger tight." (Not too tight! It's important that air is able to escape during the canning process.) Work quickly, or at least steadily: you want the jars to still be very hot when you put them into the canner.
  • For pint jars, use 1/2 C. grapes and 2T. sugar.
  • You can use additional grapes if desired, but don't use more than 3/4 C. for pints and 1 1/2 C. for quarts.

When all the jars are filled and the water in the canning kettle is boiling, place the prepared jars in the canning kettle (use a canning rack so they stay upright and don't bobble around and get broken). Add boiling water if needed to ensure that the jars are covered by at least 1" of boiling water.  Put the lid on the kettle and maintain a boil for 15 minutes. Then, take the lid off, turn off the heat, and let the kettle sit for 5 more minutes. Remove the jars and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Once cool, check the seal on the jars. Correctly sealed, they'll keep for a year. To use, strain the contents of the jar, crushing the grape mass to release every bit of juice. The juice will be a deep purple and lightly sweet. You'll love it!
  • You can also freeze the juice instead of canning it. Crush or chop the grapes, then place grapes and sugar into a freezer-safe container. Fill with cool water and freeze. This method works pretty well, although not as well as canning.

Yes, autumn is here, winter waits just around the corner, and the Earth is winding down, preparing for her long winter nap. It’s time for “wintering in,” that traditional period when the crops are harvested, the wood chopped, and the home and hearth made ready for the dark months. Many of us have an urge to put our lives in order at this time of year, and it’s a compulsion with strong biological and magickal roots. Projects like this one can help you reap both literal and spiritual harvests as you restore larder and psyche. 

Finish your grape juice experience by blessing your own gardens and fields. Bury the grape stems or add them to your compost pile, then offer a bit of the finished juice to your garden, giving thanks as you spill the rich juice over the soil. These gifts are given that we may be nourished and live .... Bless the treasures of the rich Earth, the warm Sun, the bountiful rains. May their promises endure, and may we never fail to show gratitude for their renewal!