Monday, September 19, 2011

Grape Juice

'Othello' grapes in my potager

I canned grape juice, tomato sauce, and salsa this weekend. Started some apple cider. I made sun-dried tomatoes with garlic and basil in olive oil. I still have two very big bowls of tomatoes to can and apples to make into sauce. I have a basket of green peppers, some sort of hot, some not. I will probably chop or slice and freeze those, an easy way out as they don't even need blanching. I thought I had a plethora of canning jars, but I am down to about 6 large-mouthed quarts and a few stray others.

This weekend, my brother and sister-in-law have been concentrating on grape juice using a juice steamer. I will have to find out how that went. My brother says the harvest was one of the biggest he has had. His are Concord grapes planted on the old wind-driven water pumping windmill his historic homestead.

The grapes were there before he bought the property and have outlived the removal of the working parts of the drive that would have drawn up the water from the well. My sister-in-law has spoken of restoring it into a functional piece sometime in the future. A lot of expense for something that would be a novelty at best providing drinking water for her only livestock, a trio of donkeys.

Now, it forms the climbing structure for her grapes, however. Grapes that my brother had to harvest using a 16 foot ladder, wisely foregoing the tiny metal ladder running up the frame of the windmill.

Many people harvest what we call "fox" grapes which grow wild and can have a "foxy" taste. Some are lucky enough to have 'King of the North'. I have 'Othello', a true wine grape, and are a bit sweeter than the Concords. We have planted 'Reliance', a seedless red grape in the family garden for future eating as table grapes. We had five grapes this year,which the nephews declared very good with their 2-year-olds chant of "more, more!"

This year my pollination was hampered by the late bloom and rambunctious grow of leaves at the crucial point of pollination. On my two vines, I had ample set of grape bunches, but the number of grapes per bunch was down. Also a dry August affected the end size. My brother received two generous showers which my village missed out on entirely in August.

I had enough grapes to can just four quarts of juice.

I tried a new method. Last year I used an easy cold pack method:

Per quart:

1 1/2 cups of grapes, washed, and destemmed
1/2 cup sugar
Boiling water to fill within 1/4 of the rim.

Adjust two piece caps and lids and use a boiling water canning method for 15 minutes.

This is quick and easy, but requires some very messy decanting for not a lot of drinkable juice.

This year, I tried a slightly different spin on a couple different recipes, which is probably not advisable by the USDA.

Grapes like apples have pectin. Pectin separates out when fruit is brought to boiling. Pectin is good if you want it for making jellies and such. It is not good when you want to make good quality juices. Problem is, boiling is how you can juice and sterilize and pasterize.

So how do you get around boiling and the sediment it causes in the juice, which is not esthetically pleasing to the drinker?

The boiling water bath canning method makes use of boiling to set the seal. Everything is boiling, air is forced out, taking care of bacteria that need air to proliferate. The bacteria that don't need air are dealt with by use of proper pH. The proper pH is typically provided by a combination of lemon juice, 5% vinegars, salts, and sugar. This is why the weighs and measures in recipes are so important. It is also why only certain food items can be boiling water canned, others need pressure canning. It is also why with the advent of low-acid tomatoes the USDA recommends adding two tablespoon of lemon juice to each quart of tomatoes when canning them in a boiling water bath (one Tablespoon per pint).

So my method requires grapes to be simmered until they are soft enough to put through a food mill. It also requires they are brought to a minimum of 165 degrees for at least 10 seconds. (The USDA has found 6 seconds at 165 degrees sufficient to pasterize grapes, knocking out a whole host of pathogens.)

I then worked out the math on the proportions of sugar and boiling water that I would use if I canned my grapes using the cold pack method. This I compared to the syrup recipe found in the 'Ball Blue Book of Preserving' and found it to be in the medium weight syrup range. To be on the safe side, I added two tablespoons of lemon juice to each quart, as well. I canned the quarts in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Looking at my grape juice, I think there will be some of the pectin sediment that will settle out. Given the intensity of the grape juice, I would guess this concentrate will be diluted 1:1 with cold water when drinking, yielding much more volume of drinkable juice and a tastier product.

The alternative to this would be decanting prior to canning and two or more runs through a juice bag strainer. This method requires two or more days and a lot of handling of the product which can always provide additional steps for the introduction of bacteria and other pathogens.

Just a note, I did have just a couple seeds that the food mill allowed to slip in that I did not manage to remove, but no skins, and for the most part no seeds.

2011 juice on left, last year's vintage on the right.

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