Experiments in Food Preservation: Wild Grape Jelly

Wild Grapes

If you regularly keep up with this blog, then you might recall my post some months back about our trip to the Smoky Mountains. On the way back through Missouri, we stopped in the Eleven Point District of Mark Twain National Forest, spending a night at McCormack Lake and a few hours hiking the Irish Wilderness. Hiking around the lake, we came across numerous persimmon trees, whose fruit was not quite ripe, and discovered a bevy of wild grape vines. We discovered more wild grapes while in the Irish Wilderness, where we decided to grab some plastic bags and forage enough to bring home, leaving plenty for the birds and animals to eat.

There are several species of wild grape native to Missouri, though vitis riparia and vulpina are the ones most familiar to wild foragers in the region. There is another species, most commonly seen on river banks, called vitis rupestris, recognizable for its red stems. They're all quite common in the right location and, as far as I know, edible to humans (though usually quite sour and not as juicy as the commonly cultivated Mars or Concord). For the last couple of years, I have been gathering a few of the wild grapes growing as "weeds" in my yard and am slowly attempting to cultivate the vines for food.

Now, personally, I've never been a big fan of grape jelly. Compared to strawberry jam or orange marmalade, I've always found the stuff just sugary and bland, and I've never been fond of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches either. I love fresh grapes, though, and usually buy a few bunches of the Mars variety when I see them at market. This year I decided to experiment with low sugar grape jelly, just to see if I could.

Wild Grape Jelly

The process of making grape jelly is pretty much the same as with any cultivated grape, like a Mars or Concord (both of which are native cultivars derived from vitis labrusca). Following the Pomona recipe, I started with a pound and a half of grapes, which I then mashed and simmered for ten minutes, cooled and poured into a cheesecloth bag to drip for about one day. Since I was using the wild grapes, I added a bit more sugar than I would have done with a sweeter cultivated grape. Final tasting proved that the finished jelly was just as sweet as my previous batch of Mars grape jelly.

Wild Grape Jelly

1 1/2 lb wild grapes (vitis riparia or vulpina)
2 tb lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup - 1 cup sugar or 1/4 cup - 1/2 cup honey
2 tsp calcium water (included in box of Pomona pectin)
2 tsp Pomona Universal Pectin

1. Remove stems and mash grapes and mix with 1/4 cup of water in saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour cooked fruit into jelly bag. Let drip until juice stops.

2. Pour juice into saucepan, leaving sediment undisturbed. Mix with lemon juice and calcium water. In a separate bowl mix together sugar or honey and pectin.

3. Heat juice mixture to boiling and add pectin/sugar mixture. Stir vigorously 1-2 minute to dissolve pectin, then bring mixture back to a boil and remove from heat.

4. Fill jars to 1/4" from top and seal. Store in fridge up to 1 month or process for 10 minutes in boiling-water bath.

With Christmas coming up, I'll be giving at least a couple of jars of this jelly to family and friends as gifts. Usually I print out nice labels for the jars, listing the date canned and ingredients, then top off the jars with a pretty holiday-themed circle of fabric, a ribbon, and gift tag. Just about everyone appreciates a homemade gift, especially one with a story attached. Imagine the joy or pride in telling someone their preserves came from the Ozarks or straight from your garden.