Friday, October 1, 2010
I’ve been thinking about wild grape jelly – remembering past years when I foraged along the river, looking for the telltale vines that twine ash trees and young elms, spying dark clusters of grapes. Denis finally pushed me from imagining to doing. He thinks there’s nothing like the intensity of wild grapey-ness made into jelly and spread on a toasted bagel. I understand; the flavor tastes original. As if the sweet tang and shining deep purple hearken back to how God made grape jelly when the world began. Kraft and Welchs can’t compare.
I thought it might be too late in the season, but last Saturday Anita and I picked enough to make one batch of jelly. Along the Zumbro River on the Mayowood Trail we nearly missed them. We craned our necks, searching, pulling the high vines toward us, grasping for hidden bunches of tiny sour grapes. They’re so diminutive and sparse that unless you knew, you’d think they were no more edible than bb gun ammo. Jelly is not difficult to make. We used one packet of Certo (which we probably didn’t need at all because there is so much fruit pectin in wild grapes) and the recipe for cooked jelly which comes in the box. After we washed and picked through the grapes, removing dead leaves and insects, we threw them in a stainless steel stock pot – grapes, seeds, stems and all. I added half cup of water to get them going, brought it to a boil, mushed them up with a potato masher to break out the juice and cooked them about 15 minutes. We poured everything through a pasta strainer to get out the major debris. Then the fun part – putting it in a bag (made long ago from an old cotton pillow case), hanging it from a cabinet handle and letting the juice drain out. When it became a slow drip, I used gloves to squeeze the rest. That gave us the juice and from there we followed the recipe. Just sugar and Certo. After a raging boil, the hot liquid was poured into sterilized glass, lidded and capped. Seven small jars.
The searching, gathering, cooking, pouring. As many times as I’ve witnessed from bitterness to jewel colors and sweet results, it surprises me. A satisfying pleasure. How can it be, why should it be ours? Another mysterious transformation waiting for the right combination, the right time.