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Muscadine Grapes: Unexpected Bounty!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

Big, juicy muscadine grapes!

 

I got a text message from a niece recently, because she saw that I had made scuppernong jelly, and I had commented that my usual foraging locations were not productive this year, so I had to purchase the grapes at the local farmer’s market. She and her husband had just moved back to my area recently and she discovered that the property has a large grape arbor in the back yard. Would I like to come by and pick some grapes? Absolutely!!!

I have an 18 month old grandson and she has a 13 month old baby, so we arranged a play date and grape picking get together. A couple of days later, she mentioned that they had friends over this past weekend and they had picked a big bag of the grapes, but she thought there were more available. *sigh* Well, I guessed the grapes would be pretty sparse. After a little playtime inside with the babies, we headed outside…hmmm…there’s a cluster of ripe grapes, and a few more, and more…and I realized that there was no shortage of grapes here.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

Kids outside by the grape arbor.

I filled a 2 gallon pail and there were plenty left! After another week, there will be more ripened and ready to pick. I have weighed what I picked, and I have 11 pounds, 6 ounces!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

Nice haul of muscadine grapes!

So, now I have to decide what to do with the grapes…if I need them all for a batch of wine, or if I will have enough to make some jelly, too. I may have to go back next week for a smaller batch to do jelly. I’ll be reviewing my last two wine batch blogs to see what I did with them. Two years ago, I did a muscadine red wine that turned out pretty dry, due to the yeast I chose. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/day-144-muscadine-wine/  Last year, I did a muscadine/blueberry wine that was a little lighter/softer, but still fairly dry. https://mmmbrews.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/starting-blueberry-muscadine-wine/  I would like to do one that is a little sweeter, but I still don’t want to do the overly sweet wines that are normally associated with muscadines. Also, for last years wine, I bought a pH test kit and something to adjust it, if necessary…have to track that down and read up on it again. I also rented a wine bottle corker and bought bona fide wine bottles and corks. The first batch was put into beer bottles. I might have to open a bottle of each…for research.  I have also read that sweeter homemade wines don’t preserve as well, so just a little sweetness would be good. More to follow after research and when I get time to work on it.

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2015 Muscadine-Grenache Jelly

Grenache-Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly

Grenache-Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly

I foraged some grapes again this year. Initially, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to get enough to do anything with, when I found that my usual “big producing spot” was practically bare this year. Luckily, a couple of other spots were very productive. I wound up making a 5 gallon batch of muscadine-blueberry wine ( I had eleven pounds of fresh blueberries in the freezer.) The rest of my grapes sat in the fridge for weeks. I knew I would run out of time to enter anything into competition at the state fair this year, so I just didn’t rush.

Grenache, front. Muscadines, rear.

Grenache, front. Muscadines, rear.

In the meantime, my wife bought some Grenache grapes for some function and never used them, after I told her they were not seedless.

Grenache grapes.

Grenache grapes.

So, I wound up with about 3 lbs of muscadine grapes and about 2 lbs of the Grenache. The grenache have a kind of mild Concord flavor, so I thought they would just add a little intensity to the grape juice.

I followed my recipe from 2013 ( https://mmmfoodies.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/wild-muscadine-grape-jelly/ ) and wound up with 8 1/2 pint jars and a single 4 oz jar.

The results!

The results!

Should be enough to give a few away and get through the Winter.

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Pineapple Pickles

Pineapple pickles, left.  Grape leaf experiment, right.

Pineapple pickles, left. Grape leaf experiment, right.

I recently was playing around with trying to pickle some muscadine grape leaves. I think it was successful, but the muscadine leaves are so small, and they are difficult to handle after blanching. I wound up adding some yellow squash slices to fill the jar, plus some lime wedges and fresh dill. I doubt I’ll ever do it again, and I have no idea what I’ll do with the leaves. Maybe the squash slices will be good? Anyway, I had some leftover brine; so I decided to use it with some fresh pineapple that I had in the refrigerator.

The brine was a one to one ratio of apple cider vinegar and water, plus kosher salt. I used a cup each of the liquids and 1/8 c. salt. The pineapple was in large wedges, so I removed the core and cut into “spears”. I put the pineapple into a jar, added a few fresh basil leaves, and then covered with hot brine. I sealed the jar and processed in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. If these turn out to be good, I’ll probably experiment more and do some larger batches.

Update 5/22/15: Tasted the pickled pineapple and it was pretty good! Definitely has a sweet/sour thing going on. I’m not sure if I get the basil. I put the rest in the refrigerator  and will try it again chilled. I bought another pineapple and removed the peel and core to make tepache, a fermented Mexican pineapple drink. I only use the peel and core for the tepache, so I decided to pickle the fruit. I went with 1-1/2 cups each water and apple cider vinegar with 1/4 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Added a stick of cinnamon and boiled. Removed from heat and tossed in a couple sprigs of rosemary. I packed the pineapple into 3 pint jars, divided the cinnamon stick and rosemary between the jars, added brine to a headspace of about 1/4″ and sealed. I processed the jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. I went back and tasted the brine and it was EXTREMELY salty. It may be okay for pickling…but maybe not. We’ll see. Hey, it’s just a pineapple!

Update 5/24/15: I opened a jar of the pineapple pickles that I made with the rosemary and cinnamon. Definitely strong on the salt! Then it’s sour and the rosemary comes through. I think rinsing the brine off helps with the saltiness, but it IS a pickle! It’s not pineapple in juice or syrup. I think I would warn folks and not surprise them with this one! In the future, I think I would try to back off the salt and increase the sugar (being careful to make sure the brine is still appropriate for safe pickling). The rosemary and cinnamon are good.

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2014 Foraged Muscadine Jelly

Muscadine Jelly 2014

Muscadine Jelly 2014

This year, my first batch of forgaged grapes went towards making wine.

Muscadine Wine in the fermentation bucket

I have almost 3 gallons fermenting, but when the crushed grapes are removed (they are in a mesh bag), and I go through the process for extended fermentation and clarifying, I’ll probably wind up with about 2 gallons. So, I went for another round of grapes from my closest sources and gathered another 2 pounds of grapes, plus a couple of ounces. Referring back to last year’s post, I made another batch of jelly. The main difference is that this year, I was short on the juice by just a little over a cup. So, I pulled out a pint of crab apple juice that I canned last year and brought the measurement up to 5 cups.

Prepared crab apple juice, high in pectin.

Prepared crab apple juice, high in pectin.

Crab apple juice that has been made from cooked crab apples, and strained, is supposed to be high in pectin, too.

I followed the instructions and wound up with eight 1/2 pints and a little extra that I stuck in the fridge.

Eight 1/2 pints of muscadine jelly

Eight 1/2 pints of muscadine jelly

As I write this, the *ping* of sealing lids is making me happy! Will one of these jars be a ribbon winner at this year’s N.C.State Fair? Time will tell.

Here’s a link to last year’s post with instructions for making the jelly. (Store bought or farmer’s market bought grapes are usually bigger and juicier…but they ain’t free!) https://mmmfoodies.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/wild-muscadine-grape-jelly/

This year, I have a compost bin, so I’ll be composting the grape skins/seeds. Since the seeds have been boiled, they should compost and not germinate.

Cooked and squeezed grape must, headed for compost bin.

Cooked and squeezed grape must, headed for compost bin.

I pulled the little extra jar from the refrigerator, once it had chilled and sampled it…a little tart, great grape flavor. The texture good…not loose. Good stuff. This would qualify as “spoon fruit”!

Pretty...tasty.

Pretty…tasty.

Little extra for sampling.

Little extra for sampling.

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Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly

Foraged wild muscadine grapes

Foraged wild muscadine grapes

It is unfortunate  that my previous blog host lost all of my posts from August 31 through early October. Fourteen in all! Luckily, I DID save recipes on my computer. If you’re interested, “pin” this one or save it for next August/September when the muscadines are in season again! Muscadines are the native grapes in North America. This would have been the only grapes available to our settlers for wine-making and jelly. It would be a long time before “table grapes” and European wine grapes made it to this continent. I have located a few secret spots to forage enough wild grapes to make a couple of batches of jelly each year. I love the idea of foraging and using FREE fruit! You can, however, get cultivated muscadines (and scuppernongs) in grocery stores and, in some areas, at local farmer’s markets. To be technically accurate, both the purple and the green grapes are “scuppernongs” and the purple ones, specifically, are “muscadines”. Typically though, we use the term “scuppernong” for the green ones. Aaaanyway, they’re both delicious and make great snacks, jelly and wine! I haven’t tried making wine yet. Next year!

To eat these grapes as a snack, you point the end of the grape where the vine was attached into your lips and you squeeze the grape, so that it pops the insides into your mouth. Squeeze the skin for any remaining juice and throw it away. Now, the pulp is a little blob with a couple of seeds. It can be sucked through your teeth to remove the seeds. Spit out the seeds and eat the pulp. A little odd, but fun and delicious!

For making jelly, you cook the whole grapes. The skins give the muscadine juice a beautiful purple color.  This jelly was entered into competition at the 2013 NC State Fair and came in second place! This is a big category and I was very pleased to win a red ribbon! (I also won a red ribbon for homemade ketchup!)

Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly

Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly

I wanted to get this post back on the books, spread the recipe and encourage everyone out there that might enjoy foraging for grapes or making jelly. Just make sure that you only forage where you have permission or don’t need it . I’m also currently trying to get a couple of grape vines to survive on my property. So far, the dogs have thwarted my attempts. I have a couple outside of their area now…I hope they make it through the Winter! Now for the jelly recipe. Enjoy!

Muscadine Grape Jelly  Originally published 9/5/13  [2nd Place, 2013 NC State Fair]

Ingredients

Muscadines

Muscadines

7 cups Muscadine Grapes

3 cups Water, plus extra, if needed

7 cups Sugar, white, granulated

1 box Sure-Jell Pectin (6 Tablespoons, if using bulk)

½ teaspoon Butter

Directions

Put the grapes and 3 cups of water into a sauce pan, 5 quarts or larger, on the stove over high heat. Bring to a boil and continue for 10 minutes, stirring often.

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Using a potato masher, mash the grapes.

Mashing the cooked grapes

Mashing the cooked grapes

Prepare a colander over a large pot or bowl with 3 or 4 layers of cheesecloth. Dampen the cloth with water first and wring out. Make sure you use plenty of extra overhang on the cheesecloth, as you will be gathering it into a bag shortly. (If you have a “Jelly Bag and Frame” set-up, you can use that instead.)

Cooked, mashed grapes, cheesecloth, colander, stock pot.

Cooked, mashed grapes, cheesecloth, colander, stock pot.

Pour the grape mixture into the cheesecloth-lined colander that is set over a pot or bowl for draining. Next, gather the cheesecloth into a bag and tie with kitchen twine.

Tie and hang the bag to drip.

Tie and hang the bag to drip.

Make the tie so that there is a loop you can use to hang the bag.

Hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet knob and position the bowl or pot under it. Allow to gravity drain for an hour or so. When cool enough to handle, squeeze any remaining juice from the bag. Some recipes say not to squeeze the bag, but this is a dark jelly and clarity isn’t really a major factor. If you want to wait a few extra hours and waste some juice (which equals flavor!), then go ahead.

5 cups of juice...look at the color!

5 cups of juice…look at the color!

Once all the juice is extracted, pour into measuring cups and, if necessary, add just enough water to equal exactly 5 cups. If you need to take a break in the process, now is the time to do it. The juice can be refrigerated overnight or 24 hours.

Prepare water bath canner set-up and supplies. Sterilize jars and heat lids in water, just below the simmering point. Next, in a 5 quart or larger sauce pan, bring the 5 cups of juice to a boil. Add the pectin and whisk well. [Side note: I use pectin powder because it requires less cooking and, I think, a more true muscadine flavor.] Add ½ t. butter to reduce foaming. Pour in all the sugar at once and quickly whisk until it is all incorporated. As soon as the mixture returns to a full rolling boil, set timer for one minute and continue to whisk constantly. Be careful to keep from boiling over! As soon as time is up, remove from heat and skim off any foam.

Canning the jelly

Canning the jelly

Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly.

Wild Muscadine Grape Jelly.

Ladle the hot jelly into jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Clean rims with a damp cloth or paper towel. Place lids and threaded rings on the jars and screw down the rings until snug. Place jars in the water bath canner with enough boiling water to cover the jars by 2 inches. When canner returns to a good boil, set timer for 5 minutes.

When time is up, remove jars to a cloth lined counter and allow seals to firm for 24 hours. Check seals, remove rings, label and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Any lids that don’t seal can be refrigerated and used right away.

Makes 8 to 9 – 1/2 pint jars. I would have 9 ready plus a 4oz jar, if you have one, just in case. If you have leftover, you can always put it into a small storage container or glass and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

Peanut butter and jelly? Yes, please!!! Enjoy!

PB and the best grape J ever!!!

PB and the best grape J ever!!!

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