> recipes

grapevines and so forth
written by mom spring 1999

many more years ago than i can remember i bought grapevines for rv's birthday. he set the steel posts and stretched wire parallel to the garage so the vines could grow on a fence like in real vineyards. sometime later on the vines grew taller so wires were stretched across the patio from the garage to the house, probably about 1983 when the new porch was built, so the clotheslines no longer occupied the patio and the italian garden was born. at some point the xmas lights were twined among the vines and wires and have been there year round ever since.

gardening books show you, with diagrams how to prune grapevines. somehow these vines manage to produce up to 100 pounds of grapes, surviving neglect, drought, radical pruning while the grapes are picked in september. that's the most practical time because you know what's dead, what produced or not. other pruning is done as needed to keep the kitchen door accessible or to be able to walk under them. six footers usually need to duck and watch their heads! never seem to find the right season to rebuild or make a real arbor, just add more wire, twine or long poles to prop up the canopy.

one time not to prune is late spring. when the grapes are setting and the sap is up, you can hear it drip in the evening quiet. the only fertilizer they have received is the wood ash from the bonfires by the driveway. they do not get diseased or wormy or buggy.

they ripen after september1st sometime, we aim at labor day weekend. too late and many are lost by falling off. too early and too many are still green. the bunches do not ripen evenly so you always lose some.

so picking begins. pruning clippers, flat boxes saved from june strawberry picking or the big blue enamel turkey roaster, flat cake pans, dish strainer lined with newspaper. since they are now mostly overhead, one uses a stepladder or a sturdy lawn chair or a stool or a woodblock among the growth along the garage.

one does not grasp the bunch of grapes for fear of bees, and one prefers a breezy day to keep away the mosquitos (and bees). the cardinal who nests on the top of the old swingset that supports the north end flutters away while you are invading her territory. morning seems to be a good time to pick and wear a cap or bandana to keep your hair from snagging in the vines.

so the grapes get picked, mostly by mom. rv puttered at picking them. sometimes more, sometimes less, but he watered them all summer. the jelly and juice production fell to me (mom). first they are dumped into the sink, rinsed and stemmed (that's the part i/emily did! ugh!) and thrown into the roaster, set on the 2 right burners of this faithful old stove. some water is added and as they heat up to a simmer they are mashed down, and cooked some more. as the mess becomes more liquid the fire is lowered and the skimming begins. dipping the juice off the top pouring it thru a colander without mashing, to get the clearest, least pulpy juice -- this is for the juice.

as you dip the pulpier part, it gets mashed thru, so it thicker. this is for the jelly. so there are several kettles, bowls, colanders. all in use for the slow straining process. i seldom use the cloth bag straining method, it took too long and i'm not a purist making clear jelly.

after the juice is strained, maybe more than once to get the juice more clear, one kettle is set to boil up, sugar is added, and at the same time, a flat cake pan is set on one burner for the jars, lids and rings to be sterilized. so it can be a hot job, depending on september's weather. much was done at night, since it is time consuming, and there were the regular family needs of the day. meals were prepared in the middle of this and then the years of teaching, leaving the evening the only time to do it. many times this WAS the labor day weekend.

the juice was made first from the first strainings, then the jelly. straight from the sure jell package instructions - guaranteed success. put in the sure jell, bring it to a boil, then add 7 cups of sugar. bring to "a full rolling boil that will not be stirred down" boil for 1 minute, shut off the fire, stir to break down the bubbles. then skim off what's still foamy. pour into sterilized jars. leave 1/2 inch for melted wax, be sure rim is clear of jelly. screw on hot sterilized lids. the lids are only necessary to keep out critters (one year before lids the mice enjoyed several jars). by now it's 10:30 or 11pm and the sink is full of pans and bowls and rv is still watching tv, reading and/or doing puzzles.

in recent years the jars are new ones, or garage sale finds because most of the jelly is given away so a new supply is needed every year. that made for the webbs and jonathan's household is in larger jars for the great consumers!

return to top