Friday, November 18, 2011

Heirloom Foods: Making Grape Jelly

Concord grape vines in Virginia, Fall 2011.  All photos courtesy Linda Lutz.
Concord grapes on the stem, 2011.
Each Fall my mother makes amazing homemade grape jelly from grapes she picks from her friend Wendy's grape vines.  This year I convinced my mom to send me her recipe and photographs of the entire process.  She made jelly about a month ago, but I haven't posted her recipe because I got exhausted just looking at the instructions and thirty-one photographs she sent to describe what she does.

Today I decided to buckle down and sort it all out.  I was killing time by organizing photographs while eating toast with grape jelly that my mother brought me the last time she came to visit.  As jelly dripped down my chin, I realized that I had no clue how to make this lovely stuff and if I ever wanted to figure it out I'd better get to work.  Luckily, grapes are gone for this year so I don't actually have to make the stuff-- at least not until the next grape harvest.
Grapes off the vine in my mother's kitchen, 2011.

My mother based this recipe on the amount of grapes she had this year.  When my mom weighed the grapes she had collected, it turned out to be 3 1/2 pounds of grapes taken off the stem equaled 2 quarts of grapes, which yielded about 5 cups of grape juice.


  • My mom says it's ok to use some partially ripe grapes to make the juice.  Just make sure that at least three-fourths of your grapes are really ripe.  (Up to one-fourth of the total amount can be slightly green.)
  • Do not double the recipe.  
  • Although my mother does not always use a hot water bath after filling the jars, USDA recommendations suggest that any canned product should always be processed in a hot water bath.  
Finished Grape Jelly, 2011.
Grape Jelly
by Linda Lutz

Yields 8 cups of jelly.


  • 3 1/2 pounds grapes off the stem (2 quarts), which equals 5 cups of juice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1.75  ounce pectin (I use Sure-Jell.  If you use another brand of pectin, you should consult package directions.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 7 cups sugar

Specialized Tools/Equipment:

  • 8- 8 ounce jelly jars with lids and rings
  • 1 large cooking pot (at least 16 quarts)
  • Jelly strainer or a colander covered with several layers of cheese cloth
  • Jar funnel
  • 1 canner (for canning the jelly)
  • 1 or 2 food-safe gloves

  • Remove grapes from stem and place in a large pan of water.
  • Quickly rinse grapes and place in colander to dry.
  • Put 2 cups of grapes in a large stock pot and crush the berries with glove-covered hand.  Keep adding 2 cups at a time until all the berries are crushed.  As my mother says, "there's nothing like good old hands for crushing grapes."
  • Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the stock pot and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Straining crushed grapes, 2011.
  • Pour grapes into dampened jelly strainer (or several layers of dampened cheese cloth).  Be sure to put the jelly strainer over a bowl to collect juice.  Obviously, the bowl needs to be large enough to collect 5 cups of juice.
  • Let sit for several hours or up to half a day.  The longer you let it set, the more juice you'll get out of it, but do not smash grapes or squeeze the bottom of the jelly bag.  
  • Run jelly jars through dishwasher so that they are hot when juice is ready to be used.  If jars cool, place them in a 9x13 inch pan and warm them in a 175 degree oven.  
  • Measure 5 cups of juice in a large sauce pan (at least 6 quarts).
  • Gradually stir in Sure-Jell.
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter to reduce foaming.
  • Bring mixture to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.  (A "full rolling boil" is a boil that doesn't stop when you stir it.)
  • Add 7 cups of sugar quickly, stirring to dissolve.  Be sure to measure it first as it is easy to lose count of the number of cups you're measuring.
  • Return mixture to a full rolling-boil and boil hard for exactly one minute, stirring constantly.
  • Remove pan from heat and let sit for several minutes.
  • Skim off foam with a metal spoon.  (The metal spoon will almost act like a magnet.)  Scrape foam all to one side and scoop it out of the stock pot.
Skimming off foam from heated grape juice.
  • To prepare the lids, pour boiling water over lids in a small sauce pan, as recommended by the directions on the box that the lids come in.  (My mother's friend Betty Sheetz always put her lids in the oven with the jars.  My mother always uses the hot water bath instead.)
  • Take the jars out of the oven and prepare to fill jars.
  • Using the funnel and a one-cup measuring cup or ladle, pour jelly into jars, filling to within an 1/8 of an inch of the top.
  • Wipe the jar rim clean with a clean dish cloth or wet paper towel.
  • Take a lid out of the water and place it on top of the jar.  (It's ok if the lid is still wet.)
  • Screw on the metal ring tightly.
Jars of grape jelly in the hot water bath.
  • Process in a hot water bath according to USDA recommendations.  My mother's version is to put water in a canner and put the jars in the boiling water, covered with at least one inch of boiling water.
  • Keep the water boiling and boil for 5 minutes.  Lift jars out with tongs and let cool without touching or bumping them until they're really cool-- at least overnight.
  • After the jars have cooled, be sure that you get a tight seal.  The center of the lid should be slightly indented.  You can check this by pressing the center with your finger.  If the lid pops back up, it isn't sealed.  If jar does not seal properly, keep it in the refrigerator and use within several weeks.
  • Grape jelly is best eaten within a year to keep texture from changing.  Note from Susan:  In our house, it never lasts that long.


  1. My mother used to make grape jelly and blackberry jelly....never knew it was so time consuming! I have never tried, but got some raspberry and grape jelly from a friend ( a guy friend of my husband), and now I will savor it even more! The raspberry jelly is yummy, even though I don't like seeds that much! But put it on a cracker, and I could eat half the jar!! I haven't tried the grape jelly yet, but that will be a winter pleasure!!

  2. Shirley- I'm happy to hear that there are other people out there still making jelly... especially raspberry jelly. It's one of my favorites.