Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Concord Grape Juice - Drink Your Flavinoids!

When it comes to antioxidant activity, Concord grape juice rates right up there as one of the most healthful juices you can drink.  It is one of the easiest grapes to grow and the grape used in classic jelly and juice products found on store shelves since your grandparents were kids.
 The smell and taste of Concord grape juice is one of Michael's nostalgia triggers fostered by a childhood friend's mother who made her own and had a frosty glass waiting for him every school morning.
We haven't planted grape vines yet.  We're still deciding what varieties to grow, but one of them will have to be a Concord in order to keep the juice supply coming!  Luckily, our friend Janice has an arbor that's turned out bumper crops the past two years.  Last year conditions were perfect and she had tons of picture perfect clusters.  This year we had an extremely dry summer and the clusters weren't so perfect but I think the grapes themselves were sweeter.  Janice said she was still well stocked with grape products from last year and invited me to pick her vines please!  I did.  Twice.  I barely dented them.
We aren't big fans of grape jelly so my goal is quarts of juice.  If you like the jelly, both jelly and juice start out the same way and you can set some of the juice aside for jelly making.

The first step is to spread the grape clusters outside where you can rinse them thoroughly with a hose.  I have a large wood frame stretched with hardware cloth that sits on blocks.  This allows me to gently mist and drain produce before it comes in the house.  Before that I used a plastic flat that cases of soda come on.  The plastic flats that nurseries use for plants work well too although they don't hold a lot of weight.  If you've gathered your own grapes you've probably discovered that little spiders and other bugs like to hide within the clusters.  Always good to get rid of them before the grapes come in the house.

Remove the grapes from the stems.  I do this while listening to an audio book or watching a movie.  I was stemming 3/4 of a bushel so it took awhile and entertainment was a must.  Once you have a large amount stemmed, drop them into a sinkful of clean water, gently agitate and then lift them out of the water and drop them into a large deep pot.  You can crush them with a potato masher or something like, but I just squeeze them with my hands as I drop them in the pot.  Continue with this until the pot is 3/4 full of crushed grapes or all your grapes are gone.  I had enough grapes that I had to clean, crush, and simmer them in batches.  There should be enough juice that the grapes are covered.  If not, add a little water.

Bring the grapes and juice to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Turn the heat down to a slow simmer, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes.

Once the grapes are cooked, I go back in with an immersion blender and break up the grapes even more.  You can do this with a masher as well but be careful, the grapes and juice are hot!

Next, I line a large bowl with a damp flour sacking towel.  A clean cotton pillow case you can sacrifice works well for this too.  If you have a jelly bag set-up that will work depending on the quantity of juice you're working with.  In the towel, in the bowl, I ladle a large quantity of grapes and juice.

I gather up all the sides and corners of the towel to form a bag and tie it shut with cotton cord, leaving long tails of cord to hang the bag by.  I then position the bag and bowl under my cabinet door knobs and hang the bag from those.
Once the bag is hung, I tie it off again with a second cord to help support and distribute the weight.  It's amazing where you'll find splashed juice and how long you'll be finding it if that bag drops!

Immediately, you'll have a good bit of juice in the bowl.

If you want to make grape jelly, remove the amount you need for a batch.  Do not squeeze the bag for juice intended for jelly or you'll end up with cloudy jelly.  If there isn't enough right away, just wait a bit.  I leave the bag hang and drip for 24 hours.  At the end of that time I squeeze the bag to express as much juice as possible.  Then it goes into gallon containers in the fridge to sit for 24-48 hours.  During this time the sediment will settle out and tartaric acid crystals will form.
Those sparkles on the top are tartaric acid crystals
After the juice has settled, line a sieve with cheesecloth and pour the grape juice off the sediment, through the cheesecloth and into a large pot.  Stop pouring the juice when you see the first bit of sediment reach the lip of the jar.  The cheesecloth will catch the acid crystals.

Sweeten the juice to taste.  With these grapes I used a half cup of white sugar per gallon of juice.  You can sweeten with honey if you prefer but the honey will settle out of the juice and you'll need to shake the jar before drinking.  Bring the sweetened juice to 190F and hold at that temperature for 5 minutes.  Don't allow the juice to boil!

Ladle the hot juice into quart jars leaving 1/4" head space.  Wipe rims, adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes at sea level (adjust time for your altitude).

After processing, the juice will continue to settle out on the shelf and when you open a jar you'll find a thin layer of sediment on the bottom.  This is nothing to worry about.  Just pour the juice off this if it squicks you out, or shake the juice up and drink it like Michael does.  We find this Concord grape juice to be a bit on the "stout" side and prefer to cut it with a cup or two of water when we open a quart. 

For a further treat, sieve the pulp left in the bags to get rid of seeds and skins.  Stir in sweetener and spices to taste and then spread 1/4" thick on the fruit leather sheets or racks covered with plastic wrap and stick in the dehydrator at 135F to make grape leather.  Or line a cookie sheet with very lightly oiled foil and dry in the oven on the lowest temperature with the door open.  When done the layer of pulp will be dry and flexible, "leathery", with no tackiness.  Remove from the plastic, foil or dehydrator sheets and place on parchment or wax paper.  Roll up tightly and seal with a piece of tape running the length of the roll.  Cut the roll into 1" - 1 1/2" wide pieces.  Store in an air tight container.  Our grandkids love these!

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