There is a native grape in Texas that can be found in most areas of the state. It grows wild along fence rows, power lines, oak mottes, you can see them all over the landscape while driving the back roads. They were here when the Spanish missionaries arrived in the 1600′s. And they are mighty hard to kill. Much better to just accept them and perhaps enjoy their bounty. On the good years that is. This year is a good year. Tons of rain this spring has resulted in an awesome crop of wild Mustang grapes and they are ready right NOW! They are large, they are abundant and they are early. If you are in Texas and go looking for these grapes, beware, their acid level is high, they can cause irritation to skin. I can handle them pretty well, but the six year old tried to help last night and had to stop because of the itching that the grape juice had caused on her hands. Also, don’t try to eat these things. They are practically inedible right off the vine. They are extremely tart. But, they make great jelly and wine. I don’t make wine, I make jelly.
I picked these on Friday evening and had so much fun making the jelly, that we went back for more grapes on Sunday afternoon. It took a mere 5 minutes to pick 8 quarts of grapes. The Mustang grape (vitis mustanensis) makes a dark almost black grape with a tough, thick skin. They are great for wildlife, lots of birds and mammals eat them. The leaves and teh vine are not as pretty and iconic as the cultivated grapes, but these hardy vines survive heat and drought like no other.
After removing all the stems from the grapes and washing them, I mash them with a ‘tater masher. Once they are all souped up, I add about a cup of water and cook them over medium high heat about 30 minutes or untill the skins are soft and the pulp has broken down, stirring often to prevent sticking ans scorching. The juice becomes more purple as it continues to cook. Then I strain the juice through a wire mesh strainer, mashing the pulp and seeds with a wooden spoon to squeeze more juice out. 8 quarts of grapes yields almost 8 cups of juice. I cover the juice with plastic and put it in the fridge overnight. No need to hurt oneself. It’s nice to get up and be able to go right to the jelly-making.
- 4 cups mustang grape juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 pkg. Pectin (Sure Jell, or whatever)
- 7-8 cups of suger
note: Because Mustang grapes are so tart they take over twice the sugar you would use for concord grapes. It isn’t too sweet. It’s a balance thing.
Bring grape juice, lemon juice and pectin to a hard boil (can’t stir it down), add the sugar and bring it to a hard boil again, stirring constantly, boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
(While you were boiling the juice, you were sterilizing the jars and lids, so now is the time to fill the hot jars with the hot mixture. Leave 1/4 inch head room. After placing all the lids on and screwing them down securely, invert the jars for a few minutes to kill any fungus or bacteria that might be on the lids. Turn them back upright and allow them to cool slowly, checking on them to see that all the jars "pop" when they seal. Wipe the jars off and label if you like. I made 9 1/2 pints with the first batch.
I have 8 more cups of juice in my fridge waiting for more sugar and jars. This jelly bears practically no resemblance to concord jelly, but it is grapey and tasty and there are Texans who were brought up on this stuff that crave it with a big love. If you’re here, find some and try it. If you aren’t in Texas, or aren’t inclined to make your own jelly, you can buy it.
Norma, I’ll bring you some when we come up to Vermont in August.