Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wild Grape Jelly

I've had it in my mind that I want to make wild grape jelly for years.  My woodsy neighborhood has lots of wild grape vines, and I have used the leaves over the years when I make pickles.   I can remember beck when my son was in middle school and I was a cabin counselor for 7th grade camp out at Camp Storer in the Irish Hills, waiting on horseback for my group next to a huge stand of wild grapes right at eye level and thinking "When I get home, I am going to make wild grape jelly!".   And here it is, 5 years later and my son is a high school senior and I still haven't made any.  A few weekends ago, when I was on my weekend jog through the neighborhood, I noticed that the vines were heavy with fruit, so I vowed that I would do it this year.

Supposedly, it can be a challenge for some people to identify wild grapes instead of the poisonous moonseed or Virginia Creeper, but I don't think it is all that difficult.  I don't think I've ever seen moonseed, but we have plenty of Virginia Creeper around here.   For more info, read this blog post here.  I picked about 3 pounds of grapes last weekend, and then I consulted my trusty The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.   Linda Ziedrich said that the wild grapes that she has in her Pacific Northwest backyard didn't make good jelly, but most varieties would.   I wasn't sure what kind we have, but I decided to give it a shot.   I looked around on the internet, and most of the wild grape jelly recipes had boxed pectin in them, but Linda said that it shouldn't be needed, but recommended adding some apple for extra insurance.   Since their was a couple crab apple trees right next to the grape vines, I decided I'd add some of those instead.

Wild grapes, unlike domestic grapes, are high in tartaric acid (from which cream of tartar is produced), will form crystals in the jelly so you need to let it settle out overnight before making your jelly.   After cooking down the grapes, strain out the juice and let it sit in a container in the fridge.   I actually let mine sit for a week because I couldn't get around to making the jelly anytime during this busy week.  I let it pass through the jelly bag yesterday afternoon and it left a ton of sludge in the bag.  Who knew?  If you eat a lot of wild grapes raw, this stuff is what makes your mouth feel dry and cottony.

Wild Grape Jelly
makes 3-4 half pints

3 lb. wild grapes, stems and all
1 c. crab apples, halved, (cut of stems and blossom ends, but leave the seeds in)

Heat grapes and apples in a large pot until boiling, mashing as you go with a potato masher.  Boil for 15 minutes.   Strain and let remaining juice settle overnight.  The next day, strain juice through a damp jelly bag for 2-3 hours.   Add:

3 c. sugar

Heat juice and sugar in a large pot (I like to use an enameled cast iron dutch oven to make jams and jellies) until the jelly reaches the gel temp of 220F.   Since I live below 1000 ft elevation, water boils at 212F and gel temp = boiling point of water+8 F.  If you live at higher elevation, your gel temp will be different.  Speaking of temperature, After trying many different cooking thermometers, I have figured out that the Thermapen instant read thermometer is the best for jam and jelly making and candy.  Yes, it will set you back about $100, but it's the last one you will ever need to buy.   I've spent more than that on a pile of cheaper ones that broke or didn't stay calibrated.   Learn from my sad tale and invest in the best one to start!   

Pour jelly into clean hot jars and leave 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.  

I was a little nervous because it didn't appear to be setting up yesterday, and so I was envisioning having some jars of grape syrup instead of jam, but when I checked it this morning, it was set!  Sometimes natural jellies (no boxed pectin) take longer to set up - up to a week!

Since I have read that wild grapes can continue to be harvested until after the frost, I can probably make some more jars every weekend when I have time.  It will make great Christmas gifts!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Raspberry Zucchini Bread

I am not ready to let go of summer yet, even though fall is my favorite season.   We've had a cool summer this year, with a sudden onslaught of hot humid weather here in the first week of September.   It sure didn't feel like football weather on Friday....

Parent Night at the DHS game.....

Right before we had to take cover in the 1st qtr.

The game ended up getting delayed until Saturday because the storm was so bad.   Many were without power; we lucked out for once and didn't lose ours.  Despite football and school starting, I just don't feel like fall yet.  I'm not ready.   I've barely done any canning this year - just pickles so far.   Salsa is scheduled for next weekend.   The tomatoes are so late this are my green ones...I've got some late blight, but not as bad as last year.   I've been using neem oil to try to prevent it.  I grow my tomatoes in Earth Boxes, which are a hydroponic system and they work great for my deer and bunny infested yard.   I just put them on my patio and the critters stay away.

 So, I am not yet feeling the fall love. and when I went looking for a zucchini bread recipe online, they were all autumnal seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon.   I'm not ready for that yet!  Like everyone right now, I had a ton of summer squash to use up, so when I found a recipe online for lemony raspberry zucchini bread,  I liked the idea but didn't want to follow it because it had lots of things wrong with it.  I borrowed the inspiration instead and decided to use up half of the berries I bought at the farmer's market yesterday.  This tastes just like summer.  And it is still summer until September 21st, so let's make the most of what we've got left.

Raspberry Zucchini Bread
makes 2 loaves

For the bread
4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
4 t baking powder
1 t salt
4 eggs
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 1/3 c sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 c grated zucchini
2 c raspberries

For the Glaze
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Juice from 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350 ⁰F. In large bowl, blend flour, baking powder, and salt.  In the mixer bowl of a stand mixer/medium-sized bowl, beat eggs well. Then add oil and sugarand lemon zest, and beat on low until well combined.  Add dry ingredients and fold everything together, but don’t over mix.
Fold in the zucchini and then the raspberries.  Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes then remove to a wire rack and cool completely. While the loaf is cooling, in small bowl, mix the powdered sugar and lemon juice until well blended. Add more powdered sugar if it isn't thick enough.  Spoon the glaze over the cooled loaf. Let the glaze set prior to slicing and serving.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Yesterday, my eldest child went off to college.   Like others in my position, I'm vacillating between "How can this be happening already?" and "It's so great she's out on her own!".    I am really excited for her, because I loved my college years so much, although I expect our experiences will probably be different.   Jane is an art major at Eastern Michigan University, one of  the oldest colleges in Michigan, beautiful historic buildings.   I was an engineering major at Michigan Tech, and while located in the beautiful upper peninsula, the architecture is sometimes lacking....

Scherzer Hall (photo by Andrew Jameson)
 home to the Art Department at EMU

Smith MEEM Building aka "the Brick Dick"
home of the Mechanical Engineering Dept. at MTU

She has drawing and studio art classes, I had calculus and chemistry.  I can remember strolling through the campus in the fall, enjoying the foliage and listening to Simon and Garfunkel on a Sunday afternoon as a freshman.   I can also remember not getting along too well with my roommates, both farm girls and med tech majors from mid Michigan who loved .38 Special and professed to hate Detroit, and always borrowed my clothes without asking. At the time, MTU was proud of the fact that 3/4 of the freshman class would not survive the rigors of our education and wouldn't make it to graduation.    So I learned that roommates come and go, and many did go....I moved out in late fall to live with another girl down the hall that was also an engineering major and a much nicer person.   I can remember the dorm food - my favorite was something called "Fireman's Casserole"  which was a hot dish that featured ground beef and elbow macaroni in what must have been a cream of mushroom soup sauce.    Being that MTU was in the Upper Peninsula, we also had pasties every Wednesday...which I still love today.

College started my formative years as a cook - I had been cooking dinner for my family since I was in 8th grade when my mom went back to work, but our menu was very limited because my mother was a fussy eater.   It was during my college years that I learned what I really liked to cook and eat.    During my vegetarian era (doesn't every college student have one???) I liked to cook out of 
Jane Brody's Good Food Book or my sorority sisters and I had something called "Supper Club" where we used to take turns cooking for each other, and I would try my hand at recipes I clipped from the Milwaukee Journal or SELF.   Looking back at some of the recipes from those days, my collection included:

  • Jack's Balls - this was a Kentucky Bourbon Ball recipe made with copious amounts of Jack Daniels, our sorority drink.  I might try this recipe from Amada Hesser these days
  • Caramel Brownies made with a box of German Chocolate cake mix and Kraft Caramels.  These days, I'd make the Zingerman's Buenos Aires Brownies recipe.  
  • Cow Plops - i.e. chocolate oatmeal no bake cookies.  I still make these when I need a quick chocolate fix
  • Mrs. Field's Cookies - allegedly the original recipe that passed around on xerox copies.  It's how you shared recipes before the internet. Here's a copy of that chain letter
  • Pickled Eggs - a U.P. bar room treat
  • F&(*^&)ing Dip - our sorority's take on 7 layer dip
I can remember making a New Orleans style dinner for Mardi Gras for a gang of friends.  Another time we pressed apple cider at our house on Quincy Hill.   My friend Ray was a fabulous cook (still is) and we would get together for cooking projects like fondue or herb stuffed lake trout straight from Lake Superior.    I sure hope Jane has as many fond cooking memories as I do from my college days.  Wonder what she will be making....