One of the memorable rites of my childhood summers was growing tomatoes, hand cranking ice cream and making grape jelly. We had a grape arbor in a corner of our garden with deep blue sweet Concord grapes. Mom was a teacher and home during the summer and when mid to late August rolled around the grapes in the arbor were ready to be harvested.
My sister Susan tells the story from here.
Once I saw the jelly making equipment (canning jars, large pots, Certo pectin and thermometers), I knew that school was almost about to start and we were going to be making grape jelly which was an all day event. Pat and I were required to pick the grapes from the arbor and collect them in a bucket. The arbor was filled with bees and yellow jackets and I’m lucky we didn’t get stung! Bees were EVERYWHERE and got in our hair, eyes and buzzed furiously the entire time we were in the arbor. My mother who was raised on a farm in North Carolina put on her overalls, her hat and sneakers and we went to work. We had an aunt who lived in Brooklyn and often spent weekends at our house. She was enlisted, too! I don’t remember exactly how old I was when we started doing this but I do recall doing this well into my teenage years. The older I got the less enthusiastic I became over this annual ritual.
After many buckets of grapes were picked, they had to be sorted and washed. This was done outside using a garden hose with grapes placed on large white sheets spread over the concrete driveway. Dear Lord! The grapes had cobwebs, were sticky and had bees in them!
After the sorting, washing and stem removal, the grapes had to be cooked in a huge pot on the stove. Our house was not air conditioned and the kitchen felt like a sauna. After cooking, the sterilized jars were filled and pectin was poured on top for sealing. The jars had a special two part lid. These hot jars had to go in a water bath on the stove. After using many potholders and kitchen towels, the jelly was placed carefully in the water bath. It was critical to pay special attention to this step to avoid getting burned! We knew the jelly was ready when the top of the jars popped.
After the jars cooled the jelly was ready to be stored. Many jars were given away as gifts to friends and neighbors. Not surprisingly to this day, I rarely eat grape jelly.
I prefer jam myself—especially strawberry. Susan shares a recipe for a refrigerator strawberry jam that is delicious. Also good with blackberries!
Here's Susan's recipe:
1 pound cleaned, sliced mashed strawberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 squeezed lemon
In a medium pot add above ingredients. Mash in pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir into a clean jar until cool. Refrigerate.
This year I'll be trying my hand at canning a few jams, encouraged by my friend Judi who gifted me a canner. Judi is a master at canning and she promptly made a batch of peach preserves after I dropped off some local peaches on her porch. Judi is real peach!