Introduction: Texas Wild Mustang Grape Jelly
Vitis mustangensis is the fancy name for the wild Mustang grape. These grapes are found in the southern United States in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. They are VERY tart and VERY acidic but holy cow do they ever make great jelly. Jelly has tons of sugar in it and even so... the jelly made with these grapes still has a nice little tart kick and intense grape flavor as well as an incredibly vibrant color. The vines are pretty easy to identify too... the leaves are a dark green on one side and the other side is light colored and kind of fuzzy. The grapes grow in small clusters of 15 or 16 on average and are a dark dark purple... almost black and in my area of Texas are ripe in mid to late July.
I live on a fairly decent sized piece of property and a number of years ago I had a pipe fence built for a little additional privacy and security. Over the past few years I noticed vines growing on the fence but really never gave it much thought until this year when they were just absolutely loaded with grapes... or at least that's what I thought they were. I did a little research to make sure and found out that these were Mustang grapes. I tasted one... wow... SOUR, SOUR, SOUR... but everything that I read said they made really good jelly so I thought I'd give it a try. Very glad that I did. It is awesome stuff. I've already made one batch and gave most of it away. Now I have friends asking for more so I took pictures of the process when I did the second batch and thought that it would make a good Instructable... so here we go!
Jelly making (or canning in general) is pretty much like any other hobby these days... there are all kinds of equipment that you can buy if you are so inclined but honestly you can get away with some basic tools. As far as the specialty stuff goes I would highly recommend the wide mouth funnel and the jar grabbing tongs. These are invaluable. A food mill is really nice for separating the seeds and skin but you can use a sieve though it's kind of tedious and laborious to use the sieve. I've used both and prefer the food mill. Other than that... a couple of large pots and bowls, a ladle, measuring cups, etc. Mostly stuff that your average home cook would have on hand. I have pictures of all the stuff I used and you'll see these in upcoming steps.
Step 1: Preparing the Grapes to Extract the Juice
I grabbed the biggest bowl I had, put on my hat to keep the sun off of me, and headed to the backyard to pick grapes. The vines are just loaded and it didn't take me long to fill up the bowl with what ended up being 4 or 5 pounds of grapes. I picked a piece of the vine as well so you can see what the leaves look like. The second picture shows a typical cluster.
The first major task is to pick each grape... one by one... and place it in a large pot of water to remove the dirt, dust, spider webs, etc. This is where I'm doing my quality inspection to ensure that I've got good grapes going into my jelly. I throw away the stems and any dried out or defective grapes. Once I'm done with that process I give them a good but gentle stir with my hand. Finally I use a spider to lift the grapes out of the dirty water and place them in a colander for a good rinse in the sink.
Step 2: Boiling and Mashing the Grapes
Transfer the grapes from the colander to a large stock pot, add a couple cups of water, and set the stove to high heat. The water is used to kick start the process so you don't need very much. When the water starts giving off steam I get the potato masher out and start crushing the grapes. Once everything comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium and continue mashing until you wind up with something that looks like picture 4. It won't take long... just a few minutes after it starts boiling. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat, and let it set for a little while to cool down a bit.
Step 3: Extracting the Juice
I guess technically speaking if I'm going to be calling this jelly then I ought to go to greater lengths to filter out the pulp and only be using the juice. Seems a bit of a waste to me and I didn't want to go through all the trouble so if it's OK with y'all I'm still going to call this jelly and not get hung up on a technicality.
Once the mashed up grapes have cooled down to where they're just warm I run them through the food mill with the medium plate installed. I do this in small batches and scrape out the seeds and skins between batches otherwise it would gum up the food mill. There are a bunch of seeds in these grapes and the skins are really thick.
I probably should have mentioned this earlier but the juice is REALLY purple and stains like crazy. So either wear something that you don't mind splattered with purple splotches or maybe use an apron (that you don't mind getting splattered with purple splotches).
At the end of the process I wound up with a bit over nine cups of juice. Here's where I put a piece of plastic wrap over the container, allow it to finish cooling down to room temp, and then place it in the fridge. For me, this is a two day event and I'll hold off on making the jelly until tomorrow.
Step 4: Equipment and Ingredients
My local Kroger has canning supplies and these jars were on sale for around 5 bucks per box of 4 so I got two packages for a total of eight jars. Like I said earlier... you can buy all sorts of equipment to make the job easier. Having a basket to hold all of the jars would be nice but I'm not into it that deep yet so I just have some basic tools and they work fine. I will say that the wide mouth funnel and the jar tongs are a must... otherwise it would be a bit of a struggle.
As far as ingredients go... there are only 3. Not much to it. Grape juice, pectin, and a bunch of sugar. That's it. The recipe is 5 cups of juice, 1 box of pectin, and 7 cups of sugar. This will make 64 ounces of jelly.... enough to fill all of your 8 ounce jars. The recipe says not to deviate from the amounts othewise the jelly may not set. So the batch size is set at 64 ounces.
Wash the jars, rings and lids in warm soapy water first. Afterwards, you will want to sterilize the jars so place them in a pot and add enough water to cover them by an inch. Place these on the stove and set to high heat. I let the jars sit in the boiling water for ten minutes before I start cooking the jelly. I also toss the rings in there too. The seals on the lids are heat activated so I leave those out for now.
Step 5: Cooking the Jelly
OK... get ready. From here on out this is quite a fire drill and things go fast all the way through to the end of the canning process.
Measure out the sugar into a separate bowl and set it to the side. 5 cups of juice go into a big stock pot. Whatever juice I have left over goes in a zip top freezer bag and placed in the freezer. Add the entire box of pectin to the juice, set the stove to high heat and start stirring. When it starts to boil add all of the sugar (7 cups) at once and continue stirring until it comes to a rolling boil. Continue to boil and stir for one minute. At the end of the minute kill the heat, remove the pot from the burner, and it is time to start canning.
Step 6: Canning
The goal here is to get the jars filled, lidded, and back into the pot of boiling water as quickly as possible. Now don't go nuts... while quicker is better make sure that you are working carefully and safely too because this stuff is boiling hot!
Using the jar tongs get one of the jars out of the pot of boiling water along with one of the rings and set them on a towel. Place the wide mouth funnel in the jar and begin filling with the hot jelly using a ladle. Fill the jar but leave a quarter inch or so of head space... this is important so that you get a good seal. If you get any jelly on the rim of the jar then wipe it off with a damp paper towel before moving on.
Place a lid on top of the jar and then the ring. I screw the rings down as far as I can with the jar sitting on the towel. When the ring is well engaged you can pick up the whole thing while still holding onto the ring... the jar is freakin' hot but the ring isn't so hot that you can't hold onto it. I use another towel to hold onto the jar and then tighten the ring the rest of the way to where it is finger tight. You don't want to crank down on them... just make sure they are nice and snug. Now set the jar down and repeat the process 7 more times until all the jars are full and lids are secure.
Using your jar tongs again place all the jars back into the pot and process for 5 minutes in the boiling water. No longer or the jelly may not set. After 5 minutes remove (again with the jar tongs) and place back onto a towel to cool down to room temperature.
When the jars have cooled down the air in the head space will have created a vacuum in the jar to seal the lids. If you press down on the lid it should not flex. If it does then just place that jar in the fridge and use it first. Otherwise you are good and the jelly should be shelf stable for quite some time.
Step 7: Enjoy!
These little jars make great gifts. I've seen where folks decorate the jars and make neat little gift baskets. Lots of ideas out there on the internet. But make dang sure that you save at least a couple jars for yourself! You don't want to give them all away.
Now that I think about it... I'm going to bake up some buttermilk biscuits to have with my Texas Wild Mustang Grape Jelly. See you later!