Grapes are are a wonderful fruit to enjoy all year long. If you happen to have a good crop of grapes this year, you can preserve those grapes as juice for a beverage or to use for making fresh jelly later. Some people like to home can seedless whole grapes or halved deseeded grapes for use in salads. If you have freezer room, freezing grapes is an easy preservation method that include both sweetened and unsweetened forms. Or you can make dried grapes (raisins) to use as great snacks and to use for recipe ingredients. Be sure to harvest grapes when they are at their peak in ripeness, since they will not continue ripening once pulled from the vine. If you need to peel grapes, you can freeze them and then rinse in warm water until the skin splits and slides off. Whether eaten fresh or in a preserved form, grapes are a favorite fruit to add variety to our diet.
Home canned grape juice requires about 3 1/2 pounds of grapes per quart, so to make a canner load of 7 quarts you’ll need about 24 1/2 pounds. According to the “USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning” directions for processing grape juice at altitudes over 1,000 feet, first you wash and stem grapes and place them in a saucepan. Then, cover grapes with boiling water and heat to simmer grapes slowly till skin is soft. Next, strain through a jelly bag or double layer of cheesecloth. Caution: Hold up on processing until strained juice is refrigerated for 24-48 hours, because this step of removing sediment will prevent large unappealing crystals, tartaric acid, from forming in the canned juice. After 24-48 hours of chilling, take the chilled juice and carefully, without mixing, pour off the clear liquid for juice and discard the sediment that forms in the bottom of the container. Some people prefer to strain again through a paper coffee filter for a clearer juice. Now to finish processing the juice for canning, add the strained juice to a saucepan and sweeten to taste if desired. (Grape jelly can be canned unsweetened if you plan to use the juice for making jelly.) Heat and stir juice, dissolving any added sugar, until juice begins to boil. Immediately add hot juice to clean, hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the jar rims with a dampened clean paper towel, add lids and rings tightening “finger tight.” Place canned juice in a boiling water canner making sure the water level is 1-2 inches over the tops of jars and add the canner lid. When canner water returns back to boiling after jars are added, process pints or quarts for 10 minutes and half gallon jars for 15 minutes. Remove the canner from the heat, and then remove the canner lid and wait five minutes to let jar ingredients settle a bit. Use a jar lifter to remove jars from the canner, and place jars on a towel to cool. Between 12 to 24 hours from end of boiling water procession, check the lids to see if they sealed. If a jar lid has not sealed, you can replace it with a new lid and reprocess juice within 24 hours from end of previous processing time. When processed jars have cooled, remove rings and then store canned juice in a cool, dark area. Home canned food quality is maintained for about 12 months.
For research-based guidelines for home canning whole grapes, making grape jams & jellies,or freezing and drying grapes, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation found at http://nchfp.uga.edu or contact your NC Cooperative Extension Mitchell Center at 688-4811.