Learning to Can: Concord Grape Jelly – Part 1

For many years, my family has been blessed with dozens of cans of homemade jelly from our concord grape vine.  However, I can not take credit for anything other than the simple acts of planting, pruning, and rarely watering. My next door neighbor has been doing the time consuming, messy part for us, in exchange for a share of the grapes’ bounty.  Most years, she even does the harvesting. I felt like we were definitely getting the better end of the deal, especially after reading a few books on canning and how much work goes into it.  Therefore, this August, I asked if I could help a little more.  Well, it turns out, she really needed my help this year, so she didn’t hesitate to take me up on the offer.  She was going to back to college, just started a new job, and her older friend that taught her years earlier, no longer could do it with her.

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a portion of the Concord Grape haul from August 2011

I did the harvesting of about 50 lbs of grapes one Friday morning, not long after my post about the raccoon incident.  I don’t recommend this job to anyone who is squeamish about spiders!  Spiders and grapes go hand in hand.  The downside of being an organic gardener is, almost every grape cluster had one.  My vines grow over head on an 8 foot trellis and provides shade in the summer to the West side windows on our house.  While I worked underneath the vines clipping off clusters, every 10 minutes or so, my husband said he could hear me let out a scream.  This was because every few minutes, another spider dropped down out the vines and on to my head or face.  None bit me nor were they the poisonous kind, I just hate them on me regardless.  Next time, I am planning on hosing the vine down ahead of time; maybe that will reduce the spider surprises at harvest.

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My neighbor's 2 vintage pressure canning pots sitting on the camp stove.

Once harvest was complete, my neighbor and I spent the rest of the day washing, picking stems off, sorting out bad berries, cooking down the fruit in pressure canners, straining, and temporarily storing the grapes’ juice in plastic bottles.  Now, it is in the freezer, ready for when we  both have time to do the processing and canning.

I would never have thought to set up an outdoor work area for the cooking and straining.  My neighbor said she prefers to work outside to avoid steaming up the kitchen and heating up the rest of the house in the middle of summer.  We used her camp stove, a fold up banquet table, and a sun shade out on her driveway.  It made clean up pretty easy at the end of the day, and with the outdoor washing up, there was no risk of bringing those hidden spiders in the house.

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Outdoor canning work station in the driveway. The grape vines can be seen hanging over the fence on the right.

Although I have read books on canning and lots of articles, having my neighbor lead me through it, made it a pleasurable learning experience.  Plus, working with someone else is always more fun. Based on the 8 gallons of juice, my neighbor said we should end up with around 80 jars of jelly to split between us.

Note:  Here is a link to one of the books on canning I checked out at the library before hand: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  There is definitely a science to canning and experts recommend following proven recipes’ instructions carefully.  If done wrong, the end product could spoil or make someone ill.

© 2011 – 2012, Hanbury House.