Learning How to Can Grape Jelly [Homemade Concord Grape Jam – Part 1]

Learning How to Can Grape Jelly [Homemade Concord Grape Jam – Part 1]

For many years, my family has been blessed with dozens of cans of homemade jelly from our concord grapevine.  However, I can not take credit for anything other than the simple acts of planting, pruning, and infrequently watering. My next-door neighbor has been doing the time-consuming and 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. My neighbor was more than happy to teach me how to can homemade grape jelly.

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I have recently purchased an excellent book on canning and preserving techniques with a variety of recipes for canning, including the recipe my neighbor uses to make her grape jelly: 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. I highly recommend getting this or a similar book with tested recipes before starting any home canning project. It is a great guide to learning how to can homemade jelly, especially if not being taught in person by a mentor. Another great option would be to visit freshpreserving.com. It is a website sponsored by Ball and Kerr but they have good how to videos.

home grown grapes in southern california and learning  how to can homemade grape jelly with them
This shows just a portion of the Concord Grape haul from August 2011. I had another day of picking after this.

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 provide shade in the summer to the Westside windows on our house. 

While I worked underneath the vines clipping off clusters, my husband said he could hear from inside let out a scream.  This was because every few minutes, another spider dropped down out the vines and onto my head or face.  None tried to bite 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.

outdoor set up for canning in the heat of summer and learning  how to can homemade grape jelly.
My neighbor’s 2 vintage pressure canning pots sitting on the camp stove.

Once the 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 sunshade 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.

How not to heat up the house in the summer while canning jelly
The outdoor canning workstation was set up in the driveway. The grapevines can be seen hanging over the fence on the right.

Although I have read books from the library about how to can homemade jelly and jam, 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. Day two of learning how to can homemade grape jelly is in my next post.

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