Saturday, October 9, 2010

Grape Jelly - You Really Ought to Try Making Some - Weekly Email


It has been a busy week at the Farmer's Kitchen as I settle into my new job. I'm really having a good time.

This past Wednesday the Farmer's Kitchen and SEE-LA were participants in “Good Food for All,” a fundraiser for a dollar matching program for farmer's markets. EBT (aka “food stamp”) holders will soon be able to come to a farmer's market and get a matching dollar for every dollar they spend in the market. Not only do those in need get access to more fresh produce, but the farmers also benefit from the increase in spending. It is a win-win-win program (those who donate win because their donations do double duty).

The benefit was also the public unveiling of the report from the LA Food Policy Task Force: “Good Food for All” and the launch of the Food Policy Council, which is tasked with implementing the recommendations of the task force. The report is a must for anyone interested in creating a viable, local and sustainable foodshed here in Los Angeles. Read the whole report here:

I was excited just to be at the event, meeting and interacting with some of the top chefs and farmers in the greater Los Angeles metropolis. And, heck, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ate some of the food I prepared.

Just to let you know, we prepared Baba Ganoush (using some of the last of the summer eggplant) and Muhammara (peak of the season red bell peppers and walnuts just coming into season) with farmer's market crudités (in order to really highlight the wonderful produce we get from local farmers). We also made goat cheese crostinis topped with roasted cherry tomatoes. The goat cheese (from Soledad Goats) had not been refrigerated, since it had been made just that morning. How cool is it to work with ingredients like that?

We brought some of our preserves to display, of course, but I was excited to see some other preservers at the event as well. Chef Akasha Richmond of Akasha Restaurant fame was sampling some of her preserves there. They were all excellent, but her McGrath Strawberry Jam was amazing!

Last word on the event … I just want to give a shout out to all the members of this email list I saw there! How wonderful that so many of you care so much about food policy here in Los Angeles. Thanks for coming!

Ok, so perhaps these emails will digress a bit from food preservation, I can't help but be excited about my new position. On to the food preservation.

Go into any supermarket and look at their preserves. Inevitably, even in the smallest store, you will see two items: strawberry jam and grape jelly (usually made from Concord grapes). Most preservers try their hand at a homemade strawberry jam and discover how much better homemade is compared to the commercial product. But how many of you have made grape jelly at home?

If you haven't, you really ought to give it a try. The stuff in the store is flavorless compared to the incredibly rich, deep flavors you can achieve at home.

First, if you want some amazing grape jelly, you need to start with good grapes. Supermarket Thompson Seedless isn't going to cut it. Go into your local farmers market to find grapes with real flavor (and don't worry about grapes with seeds, you're going to be juicing them anyway). Concord is the classic, of course, but there are many other grapes varietals that can blow your socks off when turned into jelly.

And don't forget to check with your gardening neighbors. I know someone who is growing Gewurztraminer grapes on a North-facing slope in the City Terrace neighborhood. Maybe next year I'll get a chance to harvest some for jelly making. Or, check Craigslist. I saw an ad a few weeks ago from someone with homegrown grapes they needed taken off their hands here in the LA area.

Of course, I have access to some amazing grapes thanks to the Hollywood Farmer's Market. This week I got to turn two cases of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (yep, the ones they make wine from) into jelly. Thank you, Mill Road Orchard.

Probably the most intimidating thing about jellies is that you have to juice the fruit and then filter it. I'll admit, it does take more time and effort than mashing some berries for jam, but your efforts will be rewarded.

In the case of my wine grapes, I first ran them through a food mill to get the juice out. I diligently saved all the skins and seeds however. That is where most of the color and flavor are. Many people are surprised that the juice from red grapes is actually pretty pale, almost clear. The color in red wines comes from the grape skins. The same with jellies.

Next, I took all those grape skins and seeds added enough water to almost cover and then boiled them for about ten minutes so that they would release their color and flavor. And then I pressed and strained. And strained again. And again. And one more time.

You see, for a crystal clear jelly, you need to really strain the heck out of the juice. I use progressively finer strainers every time. I start with a large perforated strainer, then a smaller one, then a smaller one and so on, until I finally strain with a fine-mesh strainer or jelly bag (yep, that's what jelly bags are for).

The final step is to let the juice rest overnight in the refrigerator. Smaller particles left in the juice will settle out overnight. The next morning, carefully pour the beautifully clear juice into another container without disturbing the sediment. Now your juice is ready to make jelly.

Of course, you can skip however many steps you want in clarifying the juice if you don't mind a less-than-perfectly transparent jelly. Don't let perfection be the enemy of the good.

As for the rest … follow your recipe. Many juices require additional pectin to set as jellies, but a few do not. Grape juice can go either way, especially with the thicker skinned varieties.

That's it for this week – this email is probably already too long. Thanks for reading to the end!

If you have any questions about canning, pressure canning, fermentation, dehydration, freezing, pickling, curing, smoking or brewing, feel free to email me at

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1 comment:

  1. You are sooo right about grape jelly!!! (and strawberry too)

    Here in Texas, southeast to be exact, we've harvested wild mustang grapes. The resulting jelly is awesome!!! The color is amazing. Just sweet and tart. *Nothing* like store-bought grape.

    I agree that yes, there are a few extra steps involved in straining the juice but, absolutely well worth the effort.

    I thought I was alone in the jelly world wanting to try out different grapes--even ones made traditionally into wine.