Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Making South Texas Wild Mustang Grape Jelly

Here in south Texas, mustang grapes grow wild!  And I mean WILD!  My property is covered with them.  The fences lining the roads between my place and town are also covered with these grapes.  It amazes me I always see people picking blackberries, but never the grapes!  They are so beautiful it's hard to resist!

I remember as a young girl, my parents bought a weekend farm not far from where I live in Waller.  On the 36 acres, these grapes were everywhere.  One year, my dad and uncle decided they were going to make wine.  Well, it meant we were all out there picking these grapes.  Granted, I was about 8 years old but my cousin Harvey and I also were expected to pick.  It wasn't my idea of fun ...  picking grapes in 100+ degree weather.  Back then there was NO central air and at our country place we had no window ac unit.  The juice always made our hands itch and I can still remember going back to his house and him and I standing in front of their window ac unit cooling off.  Some of my fondest memories now.
The year we bought our place I lost my dad.  He passed away just months after us buying our home.  He was in the hospital but still talked about getting out and making wine again with those grapes.  After I lost him, I didn't have the desire to go back to our barn and pick.  It's such a waste to let them go, so this year, in my dad's memory I decided to gather the grapes and make some jelly.
The grapes usually ripe the first part of June.  It's usually hot here starting early in the year, so you have to be quick to pick them once they ripe.  The critters will eat them and the Hot Texas Sun will dry them quickly.  The best ones are usually the ones hidden behind the leaves and vines.
Last week I went back there and saw they were ready.  I went just past my back yard to where our well house is and behind it is covered in vines.  I had on flip flops and stood in one spot and picked a 5 gallon bucket full in less than an hour.  No ladder .. standing right on the grass picking!

I came in to work the next day and told a friend about them.  She was so excited she wanted to come out and pick and bring her kids.  We picked and picked and had tons of grapes.
The recipe I used I found on the internet.  I followed it to a "t" but my jelly was not firm, so I googled what to do.  You can pour the juice/jelly back in the pot and add more pectin and cook longer.  I did, and of course had to reseal the jars, but it was worth it.  The jelly was perfect!

Here's my recipe for those wanting to try ...

I picked in "clusters" then came inside where it was cooler and I could watch tv and pull all the grapes off the stems. 

Now, let me say this part .. very important.  Of all the articles I've search on the internet for making Jelly, NO ONE talked about the juice and staining!  I'm a "cooker" and sometimes I tend to make a mess, so I HIGHLY recommend covering your counters with old towels etc to protect it from the juice.  I worn a full apron too.  It helps to have a few old wet rags close by to wipe up juices and it's spills.

Using a quart jar, measure out 3 quarts of grapes.
 Place those in a pan with 3 cups of tap water .

Bring this to a boil.  You will see the skin crack open and the grapes are becoming mushy.
Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 - 10 minutes.
The next step involves getting all the juice you can from the grapes/pulp.  The recipe I used called for a juicer, but I didn't have one so I had to improvise.  When you live out in the country, Wal Mart isn't just around the corner.  Maybe a juicer would have made it quicker and easier, but my method worked just fine.
I used a small holed colander, a large bowl, and a pastry cutter.
Placing 3 ladels full of the cooked grapes in the colander, I mashed it with the pastry cutter, getting as much juice out as I could. 
Discard the pulp/skin mixture.
I would pour the juice in a jug and continue until I had separated the juice from all of the cooked grapes. 

Place the juice in the fridge and chill overnight.
The next day is "jelly making day" with the chilled juice!
I took a large pot (dutch oven) and placed a piece of cheese cloth over the top (double thickness) and I placed a rubber band over the pot to hold the cheese cloth in place.
Pour a small amount of the chilled juice on the top of the cheese cloth.
You can hear some of the juice dripping through the cheese cloth but there still lots of juice left in this pulp mixture. You want to remove all the pulp you possibly can.  You want your jelly clear.  (I later read you can save this pulp mixture for making jam.  Maybe next year. This year I concentrated on the jelly)
I took a spatula and moved the mixture back and forth over the cheese cloth, separating the juice from the pulp and any seeds that slipped thru the colander.  The cheese cloth would loosen so I would pull it to tighten it around the rubberband.
Some of the juice dripped on the stove (the reason for the wet rags handy!).  I was constantly cleaning up!
After you have strained the all the juice from the container through the cheese cloth, gently remove the rubberband and cheese cloth from the pot.  Yes, I made another mess and splattered juice on the brick by my stove and counter.  Again .. wet rags are handy!
Discard the cheese cloth and the pulp. 
Bring the juice mixture to boil and slowly add 6 cups of sugar and 2 packages of pectin.  I use the dry pectin.  I originally only used 1 pectin but it didn't jell, so I cooked again and added another.  Using 2 packages works great.
You will be stirring the mixture constantly until it boils.  Continue to stir until it comes to a hard boil.  Be careful to watch your heat.  One batch I got distracted and it boiled over on me!  What a mess on the stove!
After the mixture has reached a hard boil, remove from heat.
Take a metal spoon and gently skim the residue on top of your mixture off and discard.  Remember, you want CLEAR jelly! Now ..  It's ready to be put in jars!
I sterilized 8 pint jars and had them ready for the mixture.  Ladle the mixture in the jars leaving about 1/4" remaining at the top.
My friend Amanda came by to pick and helped me finished this batch I was working on.
Place a small pan on the stove with about 1" of water in it.  Bring to a boil and place lids in the water to soften the rubber ring so the jars will seal.  I don't put the lids in the water until I'm positive how many I will need for that batch.  Once you have softened the rubber on the ring, you can't use them again.
Once the jars are filled (and the lids are boiling), take a damp cloth and clean the tops of the jars to remove any debris left from filling.  This will cause the jar not to seal.  Any NONsealed jars cannot be stored on a shelf.  They must go in the fridge and be used within a couple of weeks. (No preservatives!)
Once you have boiled the lids (about 10 minutes), I use my canning magnet to remove the lids.  If you don't have one, just toss the water and put the lids on the counter.  Warning:  They are very hot so be careful.
Place one lid on each jar, tighten a ring on the jar and flip them over.  The heat from the jar will cause the lid to seal.  No "bathe" is necessary.  As they are cooling you can hear the lids POP. 
If you have any jars that do not POP, then you can place them in boiling water (covering the top of the jar) for about 8 minutes (a water bathe). 
TEST THE JARS TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE SEALED before storing on a shelf.  If you press the middle of the lid on top, it will not give.  This means it's sealed.  If it pops back and forth, the jar is not sealed.
The jelly is a bit tart, but oh so good!
I also made a few jars adding jalapeno peppers!  After all, this is Texas and we like things HOT!


  1. These look amazing and I love that you were able to pick wild grapes from your own yard!

    Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know about the oatmeal soap and your variation. I'm totally going to add the aloe vera oil next time around! :)

  2. You have a wonderful story. I would love to have a few of your grapes. If you have any left this year. I love to make jelly. 903 715 6350

  3. You have a wonderful story. I would love to have a few of your grapes. If you have any left this year. I love to make jelly. 903 715 6350