Michigan is home to hundreds of small vineyards producing new and exciting wines but many Michigan homeowners also have table grapes growing in their backyard. If you don’t you can find them at the farmers market near you or you can even collect wild grapes that grow abundantly in Michigan.
Grapes can be canned or even frozen but both of these methods leave something to be desired. The best way to preserve Michigan grapes is to make grape juice and can that or to make grape jelly. One of the easiest jellies to make, grape jelly is a good beginner project in home food preservation. But grape jelly starts with grape juice and a bit of warning here is that you will need at least 24 hours to make grape juice correctly.
Making grape juice
To make grape juice gather or purchase grapes that are fully ripe. Any color or kind of grapes can make grape juice. The color of the juice will be close to the color of the grapes. For jelly most people prefer blue or purple grapes. In Michigan concord grapes are easily grown and they make great jelly and juice.
Wash and sort the grapes, removing any molded, overripe or unripe grapes and all stems. It takes a lot of grapes for juice but the amount will vary somewhat with the type of grapes. For concord type grapes figure on about 3 pounds of grapes to a pint of juice.
You will need several quart size or larger jars and a strainer or colander lined with a coffee filter or two layers of cheese cloth. You can also use a cloth jelly bag or even an old thin pillowcase. After the grapes are clean put them in a large pot and pour boiling water over them until they are just covered. Simmer them on low heat until the skins soften and split.
When skins are soft pour the grapes and fluid through your colander, or strainer over a large bowl. Some people suspend a jelly bag or pillowcase filled with grapes over a bowl. You can gently squeeze the bag or press on the colander/strainer contents. Let the grapes drain for at least 15 minutes. Warning- grape juice stains anything it contacts!
Pour the strained juice in clean jars and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to settle. Crystals form in fresh grape juice that can make juice or jelly gritty feeling. It’s important to let the juice settle overnight. The next day carefully pour the juice through another filter- use a clean coffee filter or two layers of fresh cheesecloth or a clean jelly bag or pillow case. Try to leave most of the sediment that formed on the bottom behind.
To can the grape juice, sterilize pint, quart, or 1/2 gallon jars depending on your preference. If you want to sweeten the grape juice, add sugar just before you heat the juice. About a 1/2 cup sugar per quart is fairly sweet; adjust it to your taste. Do not add artificial sweeteners. Bring the grape juice to boiling then pour it into the sterilized jars, leaving a 1/4 inch at the top. Wipe rims. Add lids. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes. Half gallon jars should be processed for 10 minutes.
To make grape jelly
Follow the steps for juice, but don’t sweeten it. Sterilize your canning jars and keep them in hot water. Measure out 2 cups of juice for every pint (or 2 half pints) of jelly you want to make into a large pot. Add 1-1/2 cups of sugar per 2 cups of juice and stir well. Make jelly in small batches for the best results. Eight cups of juice should be the largest batch.
Use a jelly or candy thermometer in the pot and bring the juice-sugar mixture to 230 degrees F on high heat. Turn off the heat. Foam will form on the top of the juice mixture, quickly skim it off with a spoon and discard. Pour the jelly into hot canning jars to within 1/4 inch from the rim, wipe rims and add lids. Process for 5 minutes in a water bath canner.
You could also pour the jelly into freezer containers and freeze it. It is no longer recommended that you let the jars seal without processing in the water bath canner or covering jelly with wax to seal it.
Artificially sweetened grape jelly
To 3 cups of grape juice add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, then sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of unflavored gelatin, stirring constantly. Bring to a vigorous boil and boil 1 minute. Turn off heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons of liquid artificial sweetener. Pour this jelly into sterilized jars and either freeze it or keep it in the refrigerator until used. Do not process this jelly in a canner. Because fruit juice has some natural sugar this jelly isn’t sugar free, but its very low in calories. Each tablespoon of jelly is about 12 calories.