My mother introduced me to most of the fruits and vegetables I grow on my property today—with the exception of grapes. Why she never grew them, I don’t know. Perhaps someone had convinced her they were a high-maintenance, troublesome crop. Or, maybe she didn’t know what to do with the finished product.
Regardless, it was a neighbor many years later that introduced me to the elegant luxury of grape growing. Her grapes ripened in late August, and she had more than she knew what to do with. In previous years, she had canned volumes of grape juice for her children, who were grown and gone now. Could I use the grapes for my own growing brood, she wondered?
Never one to turn down free food, I happily obliged. We picked the grapes together one sticky, hot afternoon and put them in large boxes. In spite of the heat, I was hooked. Few crops are as downright beautiful as grapes, with their large, graceful leaves, curling tendrils and jewel-like fruit.
I took the grapes home, washed them and made them into juice. I canned over twenty quart jars that day—enough to last through the winter. The process was very simple—much easier in fact than most canning projects, and the juice tasted delicious. Since then, I’ve canned many, many jars of grape juice for my family. One of the fascinating things about grapes is that no harvest tastes exactly the same. The same grape vine produces grapes with subtle differences in sweetness and flavor, based on the amount of sun and water they got during the growing season.
There are two methods for making grape juice. The first is to use a steamer juicer. This method is ultra quick and results in a very fine finished product. In the second method, you need only a large pot, a strainer, and some cheesecloth. Read on to learn about both methods.
Using A Steamer Juicer
This is my preferred method because it’s quick, easy, and makes little mess. Plus, the juice tends to be more concentrated and of a higher quality. To make juice with a steamer juicer, wash the grapes thoroughly in a colander and check for bugs.
Place the grapes, stems and all, in the top section of the steamer juicer. Fill the bottom compartment with water. Heat the steamer to boiling over medium-high heat and simmer for fifteen to thirty minutes, or until you see juice in the surgical tubing.
Once the juice starts to flow, open the valve on the tubing and carefully fill clean, hot pint or quart jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp cloth and put the lids and rings on the jars.
Heat water in a boiling water bath canner to simmering. Place the jars in the canner and cover. Heat to a rolling boil and process for five minutes if you live 1,000 feet above sea level or less. Process jars for ten minutes if you live between 1,000 feet and 6,000 feet above sea level. Above 6,000 feet, process jars for fifteen minutes. These times apply to both pint and quart jars. If processing for five minutes, sterilize the jars first.
Most steamer juicers are made from stainless steel, although you can also find aluminum types occasionally. Hardware stores and good nurseries carry them or you can find them online. If you’re lucky, you just might find one at a thrift store or garage sale. Prices range from $50 to over $100 for new ones.
I was hesitant to buy a steamer juicer initially, because my kitchen is already quite full and I try to avoid kitchen gadgets that only serve one purpose. However, I use the steamer juicer almost weekly during canning season and now I wonder what I did without it. Chokecherries and elderberries are notoriously difficult to juice, but the steamer juicer makes the process a breeze. I also use it for making tomato juice and for juicing raspberries and blueberries for pancake syrup. I also use it for blanching vegetables for freezing.
Old-Fashioned Juice Making
If you’d like to try homemade grape juice before investing in a steamer juicer, the process isn’t difficult. Simply wash and pick over the grapes as detailed above. Put the grapes in a large stock pot and add enough water to barely cover them.
Heat the water to a simmer over medium heat and cook the grapes until their skins pop and the flesh is very soft and pulpy, usually thirty minutes to one hour. Line a colander with cheesecloth and set it a large bowl or stockpot. Pour the juice into the colander and allow it to drain, which may take several hours.
Refrigerate the juice overnight. In the morning, pour the juice into a stockpot, but discard the juice at the bottom, which contains sediment. Heat it to a simmer and ladle it into clean jars. Process in a water bath canner as detailed above.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Pounds Of Grapes Do I Need?
You’ll need around twenty-four pounds of grapes to make seven quarts of juice and sixteen pounds for nine pints of juice. A steamer juicer tends to extract more juice per pound than the open-pot method.
What Type Of Grapes Can I Use?
You can use almost any kind of grape for juice, although most people prefer wine grapes or hardy grapes like the Concord grape, which have a lot of juice. If you want to grow grapes for juice, the most important consideration is to choose a grape variety that grows well in your region.
How Do I Select Grapes?
Unlike many fruits, grapes don’t ripen after they’re picked, so it’s important to pick them when they’re fully ripe. Look at the color and size first. Green grapes will be almost yellow when ripe, and red grapes are red. Purple and black grapes have a deep dark color with a whitish blush. But taste is the only definitive way to know for sure. Sweetness varies, depending on the variety, but the grape should have a rich, grape flavor and pleasing texture. Cut the grapes from the vine so you don’t damage the plants.
Can I Sweeten The Juice?
If you’re using a table grape or wine grapes, you probably won’t need to sweeten the juice. Concord grapes are a bit tart so I usually add a little sugar. You can add sugar before canning, but I add sugar when I open the jar since the canned juice becomes slightly sweeter as it sits on the pantry shelf. We also love to add sparkling soda to the juice for a special holiday drink. My kids make “purple cows” by mixing the grape juice with vanilla ice cream.
Can I Make Jelly With The Juice?
Absolutely. To make jelly, simply follow your favorite jelly-making recipe, adding sugar and pectin.