It's Labor Day here in the US. So, I thought I'd create a little post on, what else... labor! But, a labor of love. You'd have to love it, or the labor that goes into this jelly REALLY isn't worth it. Fortunately, I love it (and I'm sure you will too)!
Muscadine grapes (also known as scuppernogs) are supposedly one of the Southeastern US's greatest, exclusive treats. Nature's candy. Well, that's what I tell my kids when they ask for candy: "How about some of nature's candy?" Whatever. It gets them to eat their fruits and veggies.
Ever since we moved to North Carolina, I have heard all about muscadine grapes but never actually laid eyes on one. They grow them at the apple orchard that we frequent every fall. But, by the time October rolls around for us to go on our orchard adventure... the muscadines are already done for the season. And, up until last week... I had never seen them in a grocery store (let alone the commissary where the produce is usually less than appetizing). Imagine my surprise when I walked into the commissary last week to find bins upon bins of these:
At $2 per pound, I quickly filled my produce bag with about 3 pounds of these treasures. All along, I had planned to make jelly with them. However, I couldn't not try one in it's raw glory. Muscadines are sort of the little odd-fellow of the grape family. To my senses, they are some odd combination of plum, apple, grape and kiwi... not your typical grape at all. The skin (or hull) is very tough and tart... like the skin of a plum but tougher. They look a bit like tiny apples with their brown speckled skins. Their insides are reminiscent of kiwis in both their taste and appearance. And, they're BIG... much bigger than your average grape:
Not the best raw, but a very interesting experience for your taste buds. They're much better as jelly!
My trusty Ball Canning cookbook mentioned nothing of a muscadine jelly recipe, so I had to do the research for one on my own. There are many recipes out there, but they all seem basically the same. And, the ingredients? Super simple... grapes and sugar. That's it. Not even any pectin. Good thing the recipe is simple, because the process is anything but.
You'll start by giving 2 quarts (about 3 pounds) of the grapes a good rinsing, and remove their stems. Then, you have to remove the pulp from the skins (separating and reserving both parts). I start by inserting my fingernail into the top of the grape near where the stem would have been:
This relieves some of the pressure when squeezing the pulp out (otherwise the grape will just explode everywhere. You'll be surprised how easy the hulls separate from the pulp, and you'll end up with a bowl of hulls like this:
And, a bowl of pulp that looks like this:
That was the first LONG step in this process. It took me over 30 minutes to hull the grapes. Anyhow, once you've hulled them all... place the hulls in a blender or food processor, and chop them until they look more like this:
Prepare your jars for canning per the instructions found within this post. Meanwhile, lace the hulls in a pan with 1/2 C water. Simmer the hulls until tender (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. At the same time, simmer the pulps in a separate pan until tender (about 15 minutes).
Remove both pans from heat. Press the pulps through a sieve to remove seeds. Oh. my. God. This took F.O.R.E.V.E.R. The pulp is a bit stringy, so it took forever to get it all through the sieve. Really, the only thing you want left behind in the sieve is the seeds... no pulp. I'll bet this took me nearly 30 minutes. The seeds are huge, though... easy to pick out. They resemble a small pine nut:
Now, combine the pulp and hulls into a large pot, and add about 3 1/2 C sugar. Slowly bring to a boil, and boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. Mine definitely boiled into the 20 minute range (maybe a minute or two more) before it had reached the gelling point. You can test for gelling by removing a small sample of jelly from the pot and cooling it quickly in the fridge. Once you reached the gelling point, quickly pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Wipe jar rims clean, and secure on a lid and screw band. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove, and let cool/stand on the counter for 24 hours before storing/consuming.
This is a lovely jelly... a bit more tangy than grape jellies you would find in the store. It goes nicely on your morning whole wheat toast...
And, as of this afternoon, I can attest that it is most delectable as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yummy! And, if you find yourself in a neck of the woods that doesn't have muscadines for your jelly-making pleasure... ask nicely and I might give you some of mine. ;0) Happy Labor Day!