Sunday, September 15, 2013

Marvelous Muscadines

    Late summer in the south often find us strolling through the woods searching the treetops and under path for nature's juicy surprise. When my family came to Texas we were introduced to the wild grapes growing freely in the treetops. We traipsed the woods behind our home picking bucket after bucket transforming them into jellies and even one attempt at wild wine.

    Muscadine grapes are Texas natives thriving prolifically in our acidic soils. Being natives, they have wonderful disease resistance not found in common grape varieties. The only real pest are the ones who get to them before you do. These marvelous grapes do contain a small seed and rather tough skin- completely edible, they are more often used for jams, jellies, and that home made wine.
    My homestead is blessed to have wild southern Muscadines growing heartily in the canopy of several trees around our property. Since they are voracious climbers, harvesting is best done by laying out a tarp or sheet and shaking the vines with reckless abandon allowing the mature fruits to drop from the tree tops.

    While I generally manage to harvest several pounds of them, our curious donkey has managed to discover he has quite an appetite for them. Now, whenever he sees me head down the drive with a bucket he bellows with all his might absolutely convinced I am stealing precious treats grown specifically for him.
    Either way, the guys and I manage  to gather and freeze plenty before they dropped to the ground- forever lost to the herd who graze here. As soon as fall planting slows down a bit my frozen treasures will be delightfully transformed into pint jars of sweet Muscadine jelly.

Muscadine Jelly

4lbs muscadine grapes, washed

Mash the grapes with a potato masher or use a food processor, pulsing lightly.
Heat them in a heavy bottom pot to a gently boil and simmer 10 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
Using a sieve or colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth, strain the warm grapes over a bowl to collect their juices. I often run the mashed, hot grapes through a food mill before straining to extract more juice (not required). Strain about 30 minutes.
Discard pulp. You need about 5 cups of juice.
**prepare jars/lids and place a saucer (small plate) in the fridge.
Place your juice in a heavy bottom pot and stir in one and one half box of pectin.
Bring this to a full boil slowly.
Stir in 7 cups sugar and bring it back to a boil. Boil hard 1 minute.
Test for gel by dropping a spoonful of jelly onto the cold saucer (plate) and tilt the saucer. If the jelly gels, it is ready to ladle into prepared jars. If not, add the other half of the pectin box; return to a hard boil and boil 1 minute.
Ladle into jars leaving 1/4” headspace. Process in water bath for 5 minutes.

A few tasty variations:
Add lime zest to the mix offering a fresh twist.
Basil or rosemary steeped with the original simmer (before straining) is unique and wonderful!
Drop a chile pepper into the mashed grapes before simmering for a spicy hint of flavor.
Green apples can be added if you are a bit short on grapes, or if you have already strained the grapes and are a bit short of juice use apple juice.

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