Make Your Own Grape Jelly

September 21, 2010

Don’t miss Part 1 – Picking the Grapes from last week.
Part 2 – Making Jelly

To make the jelly, you will need:
Grapes (pick ‘em yourself for free in and around Houston)
Pectin (1 package for every five cups of juice)
Ball jars – I use the half pint size, but you can go larger or smaller
Lids and bands for the ball jars
A large stainless steel or enamel pot for cooking the grapes and jelly
Another large pot for sterilizing the jars
A large strainer to hold the cheesecloth

It’s easiest to clip the bunches (which contain from 2 to almost 20 grapes each) from the vines with a small pair of clippers, but they can be torn off the plant as well.   You will get about half as much juice as grapes by volume – so if you want 4 cups of juice, you’ll need to collect about 8-10 cups of grapes. 

Once home with your treasure, rinse the clusters and then pull the fruit off the stems.  Put the stemless grapes in a large stainless steel or enamel pot (do not use aluminum).  Crush them a bit with a potato masher or other tool – or if you use your hands, be sure to wear gloves.  I used my bare hand last week and had a burning, itching sensation in that hand for at least 24 hours afterwards!  The acid in these wild fruits is that strong.

Add about ½ cup of water for every four cups of fruit.  You don’t need much – the fruit is plenty juicy.  Then boil the fruit (stir it every so often so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan) until all the color has come out of the peels and the fruit is very soft.  Now you are ready to strain the juice.

Wet the cheesecloth in cold water and wring it out (unless you do this the dry cloth will absorb a lot of the juice).  Drape the damp cheesecloth (two to four layers thick) over a strainer or sieve suspended over a pot.  Pour in all the cooked fruit mash and let it drip through for at least a couple of hours, or overnight.  Although it is tempting, do not squeeze the cheesecloth to release every last drop of juice, or your jelly may be cloudy.

If you don’t have time to continue at this point you can put the strained juice in the refrigerator and come back in a day or two – or even several days later. 

Making the jelly

You need to sterilize the jars in which you are putting the jelly, unless you are making a small batch and want to keep it in the refrigerator.  Fill each jar about ¾ full with water, and put them in a large pan of water with the water coming about halfway up the sides of the jars.  Heat the water until it’s just barely boiling and continue to heat the jars for at least 15 minutes.  Just before you are ready to fill them, remove the jars from their hot bath with a pair of tongs and place them upside down on a rack to dry.  Put the lids and bands in hot, but not boiling water until you are ready to use them.

While you are sterilizing the jars, start to make the jelly.  Add a package of pectin (available in grocery stores in the “canning” section, where you can also buy Ball jars, lids, etc.) for each 5 cups of juice.  It’s best to make the jelly in small batches, in fact about 5 cups is a good amount.  Bring the juice plus pectin to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.   Then add sugar.  I use about 1 cup of sugar per cup of juice, maybe a little less – the instructions on the pectin package call for more like 1.25 cups but I like the jelly on the tart side (but be warned that if you don’t add enough sugar it may not jell).  Bring the mixture to a full boil again.  This is the tricky part.  The pectin package says to boil it hard for one minute and then remove it from the heat.  My jelly did not jell right away when I followed these instructions.  I have had better luck with doing it trial by error – watching until the drips off the spoon get thicker, or pouring a bit on a cool plate until I can see it is jelling.  A good cookbook such as The Joy of Cooking will have complete jelly-making instructions, or you can look for suggestions on-line.

When you think the jelly is done, right the jars and pour the jelly into them, filling to within about 1/8” from the top.  Use a clean damp cloth to clean any spilled jelly off the rims of the jars.  Then, put on the lids and screw the bands on.  Don’t tighten the bands completely right away; wait a minute or so.  If a seal forms, you will hear the lids “pop” a few minutes after they are filled.

Some instructions tell you to then put the filled jars in a boiling water bath for about 10 minutes.  I have not done this and have had no problems with spoilage – but you may want to check with other sources. 

Then label your jars, and put them away where they won’t get jostled.  If you’re lucky the jelly will set within a short while.  If it doesn’t set after a few days, you will need to boil it more, maybe even adding a bit more pectin – and redo the jar sterilizing and filling procedure.  Don’t despair; if this happens all you have lost is time!  The results are worth it.

I have given lots of grape jelly away to friends and acquaintances and it is always well-received.  It is particularly gratifying to know that I’ve gone and searched out these plants, picked the fruit, and really done the whole process “from scratch.”  The jelly is delicious – you won’t want to eat the insipid, overly sweet Welch’s Grape Jelly once you’ve made your own from wild mustang grapes!

Authored By Nancy Greig

Dr. Nancy Greig is the founding director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center, which she oversaw from 1994 to 2016. As emeritus director she continues to work with the museum doing outreach and education. Her academic training is in botany and entomology, with a specialty in the interaction between insects, especially butterflies, and plants. In addition to cultivating backyard butterflies, she grows vegetables and bees

5 responses to “Make Your Own Grape Jelly”

  1. Donna says:

    I’ve been the lucky recipient of a jar of Nancy’s grape jelly. It’s excellent! No, I won’t share. Don’t even bother asking.

  2. SZQ says:

    I am going to try this in the AM. We grew Concord grapes along our fence in Central IL. If I don’t get enough juice can I supplement it with bottledjuice like Welches? Would I add less sugar? Thanks and wish me luck!

  3. Nancy Greig says:

    Hi SZQ! Are you writing from Illinois? I love Concord grapes. If you use bottled juice you might have to boil it down as I’m sure water has been added to it; and you will definitely need a lot less sugar. YOu might try to find some sort of natural grape juice, or a concentrate, maybe even some that does not have added sugar. I know you can find cranberry and black cherry juice like that. Ideally you will have enough from your grapes!

    Good luck! It was too hot and dry here this year for much of a grape harvest, alas!


  4. SZQ says:

    Thank YOu for your response. We just pick 3 to 4 shoe boxes of grapes so here it goes. I don’t think I will need the juice and And I found the pectin that does not require as much sugar. They have it at Menaards. One article said it had to be found on line where they live.

    Szq from IL

  5. Nancy Greig says:

    Hi Szq! Souunds as if you have plenty of grapes for at least one batch of jelly. I will have to look for this less-sugar pectin; thanks for the tip! I always put less sugar than the (regular) pectin box calls for – but sometimes mine then takes a while to jell (gel?). I was going to suggest, if you did need more juice, rather than adding something commercial like Welch’s – which seems to defeat the purpose somehow – I was going to ask if you have crabapples in your area. You could make juice from them and make grape-crabapple jelly. Of course, crabapple jelly (or applesauce, for that matter) is delicious in its own right. Unfortunately, crabapples don’t grow down here in our heat 🙁 but I grew up with them in Canada and Wisconsin.
    I hope your jelly turns out great! Let me know…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become An HMNS Member

With a membership level for everyone; Don't just read about it, see it.

View All Membership Levels

Editor's Picks Wait Just A Minute! Let’s Take A Second To Talk About the Origin Of Time Keeping. The Krak Des Chevaliers: A Tough Nut To Krak Polar Dinosaurs Are Real And They Are More Adorable Than Elves Gosh that Corpse Looks Delicious: The Disturbing World of the Medieval Apothecary Hurricane Harvey Update How long could YOU Survive in the CBC??
Follow And Subscribe
Previous Post Shine on Harvest Moon

Equally Interesting Posts

HMNS at Hermann Park

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston,Texas 77030
(713) 639-4629

Get Directions Offering varies by location
HMNS at Sugar Land

13016 University Blvd.
Sugar Land, Texas 77479
(281) 313-2277

Get Directions Offering varies by location
George Observatory

21901 FM 762 Rd.
Needville, Texas 77461
(281) 242-3055

Tuesday - Saturday By Reservation
Saturdays 3:00PM - 10:00PM
Saturdays (DST) 3:00PM - 11:00PM
DST = Daylight Savings Time.
Please call for holiday hours. Entry to Brazos Bend State Park ends at 9:30 p.m. daily
Get Directions Offering varies by location

Stay in the know. Join our mailing list.