Thursday, October 18, 2012

Homemade Grape Juice

Simple Gifts by Yo-Yo Ma & Alison Krauss
Once in awhile I'm able to find a song that so closely resembles my "feelings" about a recipe, it's almost as if the melody is part of the ingredients or, rather, in the air of the aromatic swirls the recipe creates. This is true of today's song.  The simple presentation of this version of the song is heart achingly stirring - like my childhood memories of making juice with my family.  And the clarity of Alison Krauss' voice mirrors the beautiful pristine nature of this juice.  A recipe so simple but with such exquisite flavor and clarity!  A recipe that has been in my life as long as I've been alive - and one which I've been happy to be a part of making since I was old enough to stand to a sink or tub and pull grapes from their stem.  A recipe I'm so happy to share with you today - my simple gift to you.

 When people think of grapes they automatically think of California.  But few people know that the region around Lake Erie is also a big grape-growing region - namely Concord grapes.  I grew up near this region and remember well the heady scent of ripe grapes as it saturated the air in late summer and early fall.  Intoxicating! 

My parents used to get bushels of those Concord grapes and bring them home for us to make juice.  We'd pile batches into the sink or in large tubs and fill with water to rinse them.  We'd then set to the task of pulling the grapes from the stems.  Now, some might think this a tedious chore.  But I argue that it is not.  I guess it could be boring - but we sang songs or listened to music as we performed the task.  Sometimes someone would read out loud from a book while we plucked away.  Of course, if left unattended, children can find other ways of keeping themselves entertained whilst pulling grapes off of the stems.

Take, for instance, MY children.  While they were still young - ages 11, 9, and 8 - I got my hands on some grapes and thought my older children would benefit from the experience of helping to make juice for the family - as I had at their age.  I placed them with the grapes on our patio and left them to their task.  I kept an ear out for them while I tended to some other household chores.  The sounds of their laughter comforted me - feeling satisfied that they, too, were finding the joy of harvest time.  Suddenly, it dawned on me that the particular type of laughter I was hearing might not be joyous laughter, after all - but, perhaps, mischievous laughter?  I put aside what I was doing and went to check on them.

I saw red!  Or, more like, purple!  Everywhere!  Not large splashes of the color.  But tons of little splotches all over the fence, the cement of the patio, the siding on the house, their clothes, and their skin!  Yep - MY creative children did indeed find a way to make taking those grapes off the stem more like a game.  A very expensive game of Dodge Ball!  The stains never came out of the cement - at least as long as we lived there.  And I didn't get grapes again for a long time!

Imagine, though, my excitement when discovering that our new home state, Washington, was also a grape-growing region!  I found this out by simply driving along the interstate through Pasco one day and being hit right in the face with that heady aroma of grapes ready to be harvested!  I was thrilled!  For the first several years I tracked down a vineyard where I could purchase my grapes.  But, a few years ago, my husband and I decided to plant some grape vines of our own.
We planted a green juice grape vine and two red juice grape vines.  It took a few years, but last year we got our first grapes - some red ones and I was able to bottle about 10 quarts of juice.  This year - HOLY COW!!  They really took off - both green and red!  I've already made about 40 quarts of juice and I'm only about halfway through what's out there! 

I've had people tell me about how they use a steamer to make their juice.  But, you know, it may be easier but I think my juice is prettier!  The clarity is stunning and the flavor is full and robust!  I'll never do it another way!  There's just too strong of a memory and history attached to making juice this way.

It's best to let the jars sit awhile before opening and sampling.  Traditionally, my parents would wait to open the first jar on Thanksgiving day to go with our feast.  We all were excited to taste that year's batch!  Some years were sweeter, some years were more robust - but each year was delicious and beautiful!

Homemade Grape Juice
canning jars, lids, and rings

Wash the jars and rings and set aside.

Wash the grapes and pull the fruit from the stems.
Using a funnel, fill each jar halfway with grapes.  Depending on the sweetness (taste some to decide), add any where from 1/4 - 3/4 cups of sugar to each jar, again, using a funnel.  
Fill a pitcher with warm to hot water from the tap and fill the jar the rest of the way up to 1" from the top, rinsing any of the sugar that might have stuck to the funnel into the jar.  Use a clean wet rag and carefully wipe the rim of each jar.

Bring about a pint of water to a boil.  Place the canning lids in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them.  This primes the rubber seal and makes them ready to be processed.  Let the lids sit in the boiling water a few minutes then drain.

Place a lid on each jar and screw on a ring and tighten.
Process the juice in a hot water bath or a steam canner for 20 minutes, making adjustments for altitude if necessary.  

Remove from canner and let cool.  Be sure each jar is sealed before storing away.  The lid should feel flat or slightly caved in.
A bottle of last year's batch on the right and the ones I just did this year on the left.  The grapes will settle over time.  To serve, simply strain through a mesh strainer.



  2. Wow! I have never heard of this method to make juice. How cool! It is more labor intensive than steaming, but my juice sometimes has that cooked taste from being heated for an hour in the steamer. Very pretty, and you already added the sugar. Clever!

    1. Jeanne, I love juice done this way. I'll try to sneak a bottle down to you so you can sample it for yourself! The taking the grapes from the stems is really not that bad of a task at all. It took two episodes of "Once Upon A Time" via Netflix and I had the grapes off the stems and in the bottles!

  3. I hope I get a good grape crop next year so I can try this.
    This year was my first crop ever so I expect more in 2013.
    Reed's Mom used to steam the life out of her grapes too.
    This method looks WAY better.