CHEF JEFF: One Byte At A Time — Grape Jelly … It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than Homemade!

Many people have fond memories from their youth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For a lot of families, it was a matter of economics. Both peanut butter and jelly were relatively inexpensive compared to luncheon meat, making the sandwich combo a great alternative for snacks or school lunches.

That’s the way it was at our house, although we were occasionally treated with meat sandwiches made with summer sausage, minced ham or liverwurst from Erickson’s Meat Market and fresh bread from Cox’s Bakery in my hometown of Crookston, Minn.

But if I had my druthers, a PB&J sandwich was a tastier choice.

And there never was a shortage of homemade jelly or jam in our home. We always had a couple of jars in the refrigerator. Both Mom and Grandma Menard made homemade jelly and jam. My favorites were always the kind made with berries, although Grandma’s King’s Marmalade was near the top of the list.

As an adult, I took up the task or making homemade jelly and jam. Over the years, I’ve put up jams and jellies made with plums, chokecherries, apples, elderberries and raspberries, just to name a few.

But my all-time favorite is grape jelly. My first attempt at making it came in 2008, when my friend and neighbor, Darrel Koehler, gave me some Valiant grapes that he grew in his backyard. Along with several pints of jelly, I also canned some juice. A couple of years later, I again made some jelly from Darrel’s grapes, but those are long gone.

Unfortunately, Darrel’s grape vines died a couple of years ago, at which time I purchased a Somerset Seedless Grape plant at a local nursery. The Somersets are billed as “vigorous” and “bear heavily, small, tight clusters of small, deep red berries with excellent flavor.”

Last summer was the first time we had grapes, albeit only a few. But this year, it’s a different story. Our vines were loaded with grapes. After filling up a steam juicer a couple of times, we garnered nearly 70 cups of juice, which I froze to use later to make jelly.

I can’t wait!

Grape Jelly
5 cups grape juice
1 box pectin
Mix the pectin and ¼ cup of sugar. Stir the pectin mixture into the grape juice and put the mix in a big pot on the stove over medium to high heat (stir often enough to prevent burning). It should take about 5 to 10 minutes to get it to a full boil (the kind that cannot be stirred away).
Meanwhile, put the lids into a pan of hot water, for at least several minutes, to soften up the gummed surface and clean the lids.
When the grape-pectin mix has reached a full boil, add the rest of the sugar (about 6¾ cups of sugar per 5-cup batch of grape juice (4 cups of sugar if you are using the low or no-sugar pectin) and then bring it back to a boil. Boil hard for 1 minute.
To determine if the jelly is ready, keep a metal tablespoon sitting in a glass of ice water. Then take a half spoonful of the mix and let it cool to room temperature on the spoon. If it thickens to the consistency you like, then the jelly is ready. If not, mix in a little more pectin (about ¼ to ½ of another package) and bring it to a boil again for 1 minute.
Fill jar to within ¼-inch of the top, wipe any spilled jelly off the top, seat the lid and tighten the ring around them. Then put the jars into the boiling water canner. The jars should be covered with at least 2 inches of water. Keep the water boiling. Boil for 5 minutes.
Lift the jars out of the water. Let them cool.
Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it.

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