Last Friday, Kate and I went out to Wisp ‘O Willow Berry Farm in Stacy, MN. I’d been there with my friend Amy years ago to pick grapes and raspberries and just hadn’t had the chance to get back. Their vineyard has expanded quite a bit from what I remember, as has the raspberry patch.
We picked about 16# of small, sweet, vibrantly purple grapes. We also picked about 2.75# of raspberries while being serenaded by the buzzing of bees and the quacking of the farm’s dozen or so ducks. Their website mentions a donkey but we didn’t see him, sadly.
I’ve been nursing a strong craving for grape jam lately, which triggered the farm trip. Grape jam is something I’d never encountered until adulthood, when I was paging through my battered copy of the Ball Blue Book and stumbled across the recipe. I’ve switched to using the recipe that comes with the Sure-Jell low sugar pectin because I love the extremely bright and fresh flavor I get in lower-sugar preparations. The biggest part of the whole project is squeezing the darned grapes out of their skins, which is where my comment about the size of these grapes comes in. Kate, the kids, and I spent I don’t even know how many hours squeezing the first batch and Chris and I watched three episodes of Game of Thrones while squeezing the second batch. It really is worth it, but it’ll go faster if you can get larger grapes!
After separating 10# of grapes from their skins I was NOT feeling up to doing more. My son has been asking for grape jelly and I couldn’t deny him, being the sucker that I am. In general I don’t like making jelly because the yield isn’t as high and I prefer the texture of jam over jelly, but in this case the ease of making jelly totally makes up for the lower yield.
It’s pretty simple, really – remove the grapes from their stems and put them in a pot. Mash ’em up, then add a cup or two of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for a few minutes. Ladle it all into a jelly bag or a few layers of cheesecloth, then bundle it up and hang it over a bowl/container until it stops draining. I had the frame for the jelly strainer but not the bag, so I took the cheesecloth route and hung it from the jelly bag frame. It worked well enough, though I was pretty worried that one of the kids or a cat would knock the whole thing over.
From there, you just boil the juice down with sugar until it hits the gelling point, or if you’re like me and are impatient and have had bad luck with jam in the past, you add pectin and take the quick route.
Next up: I’ve ordered another 40# of tomatoes from our CSA, Hog’s Back Farm. I’ll be canning some of them, making another batch of tomato jam, and probably more of the roasted tomato sauce.