Sunday, September 07, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: September, Week 2

By this time in the harvest season, I'm running out of steam.

I mean that for myself, of course, because the kitchen is plenty steamy with the big canner going on a regular basis. That's because by now, the freezer is almost full from the fruits and vegetables I put away earlier in the season, and the oven and dehydrator are both begging for a rest from all the drying I've done.

Therefore, when I pick up seasonal fruit at the farmers' market, I'm more likely to can it.

That works well for more solid fruits like peaches and pears, but now that the grapes are coming on strong, I have a better idea for them: making juice.


I picked up an entire peck of Fredonia grapes at the farmers' market yesterday with the intention of making plenty of juice and perhaps a tart. The Fredonia variety is similar to Concord grapes in fragrance and taste, so I knew these grapes would make a wonderfully full-bodied juice to brighten my winter mornings.

The Chef Mother and I took the grapes home and proceeded to stem and rinse them, filling a large pot with them -- twice!

(If you're looking to try this at home, don't forget the basics: clean jars free of nicks and cracks, new lids, sterilized jars, having all your equipment ready, and following the recipe. You know the drill, right?)


To make juice is simple: to the fresh fruit in the pan, add a bit of water (the recipe I followed called for 1 c water to 4 quarts grapes), and simmer gently until the fruits' juices have been fully released. (As always, find a good recipe -- mine came from Putting Food By -- and follow it to the letter!)


Straining the juice from the squishy fruit, though, takes a little longer. I lined my chinois with a jelly bag and slowly added the grape pulp and juice, pressing down to get the juice to seep through the bag. It doesn't take long for the bag's fibers to clog, though, so periodically we had to stop, scrape out some of the less liquid pulp, clean out the bag, and continue.

It's a messy job, because inevitably you have to squeeze with your bare hands, getting a quick dye job on your palms. Eventually we shifted to a large makeshift muslin bag to press all the pulp a second time through, gathering the ends of the fabric and twisting, twisting, twisting to squeeze the grapes as much as possible.

The recipe recommends refrigerating the juice at this point because grape juice tends to develop little crystals of tartaric acid that can cloud the juice and add a sharper taste; refrigerating apparently prevents that. (Though since tartaric acid is the basis of cream of tartar, used to stabilize whipped egg whites, I rather wonder how one might go about gathering that acid and using it later. Hmmm...)


The recipe also recommends straining the juice again before simmering it the next day, but since we had checked the juice as we strained it and found that it continued to run clear, I didn't bother. I did add a small drizzle of honey to sweeten the batch -- I don't usually do that, as the grapes are generally sweet enough, but with this large a batch, I thought it might be a little strong otherwise.

Once the juice had simmered enough for the honey to dissolve and the juice to warm thoroughly, I poured it into hot sterilized jars, added lids and rings, and processed it in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.


Though I had thought I'd only get four pints from the batch, I ended up filling seven pint jars -- and two juice glasses for breakfast (which would have meant almost another pint). Wow! That should pretty well set me up for juice for winter, since I still have two or three pints lingering from last year.

As you may have guessed, I never did make the grape tart, but I hope to try that another weekend, and I'd even like to try making grape butter, which apparently follows almost all these steps before letting the juice simmer and thicken with more sugar until you have a sweet spread.

I've made other juices before, mostly from berries, but for me, grape juice is the only way to go, and I've been known to use Niagara grapes for a lighter juice, too.

And come winter, I'll be so glad we put in all this work!

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