Sunday, November 22, 2020

A New Twist for Making Mustang Grape Jam or Jelly

Many years ago my family tried making jam from our wild mustang grapes that grow along an old farm fence, with varying degrees of success. I wanted a low sugar jam but even when using low sugar pectin, getting the correct consistency eluded me. I was not an accomplished jelly maker, in fact making a jam from my grapes was my first and second attempts at it. Mustang grape seeds are difficult to separate from the pulp and the skins and juice can irritate one's fingers. My son was especially sensitive. After a couple of seasons with only so so success and life getting rather busy, we did not make any again until this year. The years in between saw me give grapes to others who were interested in trying or were used to working with mustang grapes.

This past summer we had a very large harvest coming in and for a variety of reasons, the usual suspects could not take the time to put up jelly or make other things like ice cream from my grapes, so I went in search of what I hoped would be a fool proof recipe. I stumbled on one recipe that intriqued me. It used chia seeds instead of pectin to set the jam. It was not designed specifically for mustang grapes but I thought I should be able to adapt it.

While the seeds still took an annoying amount of time to separate from the grape pulp, this method worked very well. The basic steps I took were to measure out 12 ounces of grapes after removing them from their stems and then separating the pulps into one saucepan and the skins into another one. Each saucepan was simmered for 5-10 minutes while covered and pressed with a slotted spoon regularly, especially the pulps to help free the seeds. Before beginning to simmer the pulps, I added 2-3 Tbsp of water to keep them from burning and help break down the pulps so they would release their seeds more easily. Additional water may be needed during simmering. After the skins have softened and released some juice I poured the contents of that saucepan into my VitaMix and blended until mostly smooth. After the pulps simmered I separated out the seeds before adding the skin mixture and 3 Tbsp of honey. Once everything was stirred together I added 2 Tbsp of chia seeds, stirred until incorporated and let set for 5 minutes before putting the jam into jars.

I hope to get faster at separating the seeds from the pulp, but this recipe is definitely something I look forward to making again next summer when my grapes begin ripening around the 4th of July.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Happy Holidays Virtual Artisan Market

For almost a decade I have participated in a holiday market in downtown Arlington. This year, the group decided not to temp fate and moved ourselves online. Since you won't get to see us or our creations in person this year, we beefed up our online presence so you could learn more about us and our processes. We added videos, lots of product photos and more. There is also a contact form for you to submit questions to any of the artisans. You will find plenty to browse through at the Happy Holidays Virtual Artisan Market, as well as in the online shops of the participating artisans. I hope you will stop in.

While I will miss seeing customers in person, I hope to still be able to help you find unique gifts for those on your list or something special for yourself. Since I will not be manning the store each day this year I will have more time if you want to inquire about custom work. I had an inquiry just this weekend to see if I could make a listing of mine with a different color crystal accent. I'm happy to say that I could and have just posted that custom listing for purchase. Let me know if you are looking for something specific that I might be able to create for you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Beautyberry Jelly Experiment

Midsummer when I was looking for alternate mustang grape jelly or jam recipes, I came across a recipe for making American Beautyberry Jelly. I bookmarked the article and hoped for a good set on my beautyberry bush this year. I had never considered it anything other than ornamental so I was excited to see how they would be to put up.

Beautyberries are about an eighth of an inch in diameter and set in clusters stacked along arching branches. They are bright purple and the birds like them. I harvested a batch of berries the first weekend in October. The birds had started on a couple of branches of berries. I left those alone and picked six cups of beautyberries. It was a bit tedious. It takes A LOT of those tiny berries to make six cups. There were plenty left for the birds however, in fact as I am writing this about a month later, there are still plenty.

Except for using a chinois instead of cheesecloth, we pretty much followed the recipe to a T for the first batch. It made lovely jelly but it was also a bit sweeter than we usually gravitate to so we changed up the second batch a bit. We halved the sugar, added some lemon juice and used low sugar pectin. This made it more to our tastes and I wrote down some notes for the next year if we have the time to make it again.