What a blessing to have several folks in our community offer us the chance to harvest grapes from their vines!
Harvesting and preserving has been truly a family affair. My husband and I cut clusters to fill three tubs, and then the children and I pulled the grapes from the stems. The fruit was turned into 28 large jars of grape juice. I saved some grapes to make jam; but before I could begin, I received a call with an offer for more grapes. This time, the children enjoyed taking turns on the ladder to reach the grape clusters. We filled another three tubs. My husband and the kids set to work stemming grapes while I set about making the jam.
Working together as a family can provide opportunity for passing on family history. Recently, I was reminded of this fact when at a family retreat, my aunts, uncles, and mother were reminiscing about stories they had heard when they were growing up. So I began to tell my family about my memories surrounding grape juice.
When I was a girl, I often went to my grandparents’ farm which was just a few miles away from the farm where we lived. When it was haying time, Grandpa would hire in a few neighborhood boys; and my parents and several other relatives would gather to do the hot dusty work. In those days, a square baler was pulled by a tractor; and a wagon was hitched behind the baler to catch the bales. (In telling my children this story, I had to explain that the bales were small enough that a man or a strong woman could pick them up by the baler twine. The kids are mostly used to seeing the large round bales.) While one crew was out in the fields, the rest of the workers would be in the barn unloading hay bales onto the elevator or tossing and carefully stacking bales in the hay mow. There was always lots of dust, so there was plenty of sneezing and red handkerchiefs.
While I must have spent some time in the barn to remember these details, I believe I was often in the house with Grandma. She would cook a huge noon meal with lots of dishes, at least it seemed that way to me as a child. The workers would gather around the table, Grandpa would ask the blessing, and the dishes would be passed family style. I do not recall specifically the kind of food that was served; but since they had a large vegetable garden, I am sure there was plenty of fresh and cooked produce. What I remember is the festive, joyful atmosphere as the workers nourished their bodies and conversed about various topics.
Now sometime in the course of the day, Grandma and I would go up to the barn bearing refreshment which included her homemade grape juice mixed with ginger ale. How cool and sweet that drink went down! For those working in the heat and dust, I am sure it provided a similar effect to Gatorade.
Every year that I am able to make grape juice, I think of those days and feel a connection to the past. Maybe someday, our children will be sitting with their children and say, “I remember when…..”
Here is the way my grandmother, mother, and I have made grape juice. Fill a canning jar half full with clean grapes. Add syrup to jar, allowing head space. The syrup recipe is 1 cup of sugar to 3 cups of water or 1/2 cup of honey to 3 cups of water. Make sure jar rim is clean, then place jar flat and tighten ring. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes. Remove and cool. When ready to serve, strain off grapes. You may add ginger ale to make a sparkling grape juice.
When I was making the grape jam, I tasted the juice that came from the grapes and noticed how the grape flavor was strong. So after my husband and I discussed the idea, we decided to try another method of making juice with the second harvest of grapes. This is what we did: Stem and wash grapes. Fill large kettle with grapes; add enough water to almost cover the grapes. Cook until soft. Put through a churn. Stir in 1 cup of sugar per gallon of juice. Pour into jars and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes. For us, three large tubs of grapes yielded 7 large jars and 9 quarts of juice. With the second method, the yield is lower and it is a messier process; but the product has a stronger grape flavor, uses less sweetener, and takes less time to can. It will be interesting to see which type of juice our family prefers.