Saturday, May 3, 2014

Easiest Homemade Concord Grape Jelly-- and Basic Canning tips

Sometimes, the inner child in me wants a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich for lunch. The adult in me, doesn't want that white bread that I loved as a kid.  Whole wheat bread, please and thank you. 

Yes, I'm a dinosaur of the 60's, and I always loved Welch's Concord Grape Jelly. Maybe it was because of this commercial:

A blast from the past-- I do remember this commercial (in black and white). We also collected those jelly glasses. It's too bad they are long gone, or they'd be on eBay!

I've always wanted to make jelly, but I was deterred by the recipes instructions that talk about using a jelly bag.  The idea of crushing and cooking pounds of grapes, then waiting for the juice to drip, drip, drip from a jelly bag didn't sound like something I would have the patience for.   

Jam, on the other hand, is much easier to make than one might think.

Once upon a time, when I was a kid, I remember a layer of hard wax on top of each jar of homemade jam that was gifted to us.  That seemed like too much work. Five summers ago, I decided that I really wanted to learn how to make my own jam. Once I began to research how to make my own strawberry jam, I realized that the days of using wax to seal the jars are long over.

My "go to" book on home canning is the Blue Book Guide to PreservingWater bath canning isn't hard to do, at all, and this book explains it in an easy to understand way. You do need a few items and tools.  When I want to make a large batch of jam/preserves (using whole fruit) I use a tall canning pot with a lid.  

You'll need jars, with lids and seals, naturally, and a funnel.  You can find canning kits online, that includes these items, plus a jar lifter (comes in really handy).  You can see my own pictorial on how I made my first, and successful, attempt at making strawberry jam here.  

 Photo source: Ball Canning
Last year, Ball Canning sent me their Fresh Tech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker I was so excited to receive one, because it had been on my wish list for a year.  (The price has gone down from $99.00 to $85.00.)  While that might seem expensive, I can personally vouch that this is a kitchen tool that I have grown very fond of.  The difference between using a water canning kit vs. the Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker is the amount of jam/jelly you can make. With the automatic jam and jelly maker, you will get 4 8-ounce jars of product. (As an added bonus, the Automatic Jam & Jelly maker does all the work and timing for you.) When I use my water canning kit, I can make up to double or triple that amount. So, potential buyer, be aware!

Still, making my own jelly was on my list of things to learn. I wondered if I could buy pure grape juice, and skip the whole crushing of grapes and jelly bag steps.

I was able to find the pure fruit juice I was looking for at Trader Joe's. 

The process of making the jelly was really easy. I used Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin, sugar and pure Concord Grape Jelly. With the Fresh Tech Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker, all I had to do was whisk together the fruit juice and pectin, pour it into the pot,  press the button for "jelly" and hit start. The jam/jelly maker automatically stirs up the juice and pectin, then beeps when I needed to add the sugar.

I put the glass lid on, and waited for the final beep that the jelly is cooked to the perfect temperature. I was a little apprehensive, because the jelly wasn't thickened the way that cook jam becomes. I carefully spooned the mixture into four sterilized 8-ounce jars.

I really like the Ball Home Canning Discovery Kit.  It's inexpensive (under $20.00), and fits into one of my smaller pots-- perfect for making smaller batches of jams or jellies.  The kit comes with jars, to get your started, and a simple recipe booklet.  

From start to finish, the whole process was finished in 45 minutes.  How easy is that? (You can read how to "water can" your jam or jellies here.  )

Well, that doesn't include cleanup. Add five more minutes. The pot's non-stick finish took soap and water and about five more minutes. Still, not bad!  I spooned a little of the hot grape jelly into a small bowl and chilled it for about 30 minutes.  Would the mixture actually firm into a gel?

Relief!  The jelly was the exact consistency I had hoped it would be. But, would it taste as good as Welch's?

TASTING NOTES:  Yabba Dabba Doo!  Indeed. I could not have asked for more.  The next time I went to Trader Joe's I found 100% pure apple juice and cherry juice.  I know I'll be making those flavors, in the near future. As for my husband, he says he doesn't like jelly. He says it's a "texture thing".  Party pooper. But, that's the beauty of making a small batch of jam or jelly.  I can enjoy this year-round, and feel a bit of culinary accomplishment that I made this myself.

Is making your own jam or jelly less expensive that store-bought? Not necessarily, but in this case, five pounds of grapes could be expensive. I paid less than $3.00 for the grape juice. You can buy cheap jelly or jam, but read the label. What's in it? On the other hand, the more  organic and gourmet brands of store bought jams can be right up there, in price.  So, sometimes, it's cheaper. Especially when you grown your own fruit-- and my husband grows our own olallieberries to make jam ...

...or pie

Why make my own jam or jelly? For one, I find it very gratifying. With summer just around the corner, it's fun to buy farm-fresh organic fruits and to preserve them for the rest of the year. Now that I have the process of making a big batch of jam down to a science, I know I can make a big (or small) batch of jam in one hour. I plan to experiment with more flavor combinations. Last year, I made Strawberry-Raspberry Preserves, or Strawberry-Vanilla Jam. Plus, tying a decorative bow around a jar of homemade jam or jelly makes a great hostess gift or Christmas basket.


If you've never made your own jam or jelly, I hope that you make this summer your first time doing it.  I think it's a lot of fun.  I don't know if I'd recommend doing this with your kids though (except, maybe taking them to pick your own fruit).  The mixture becomes very hot, and I'd hate to hear about kids burning their hands.  However, I do think they'll enjoy their PBJ's, knowing that their mommy made it just for them!

The printable recipe card, as always, is at the very end of the post. Keep scrolling down.


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Sue/the view from great island said...

Great post, Debby, I love Concord grapes, and always scoop up as many as I can find when they come in season. I love the Ball canner! I also remember those jelly glasses!

Susan Sevig said...

What a nice "toy" you have there. I learned to make grape jelly in home ec. class back in the 60's. Grapes have enough pectin that you do not need to add anything except sugar. It has been a long time since I have made it, but the flavor is the best.

Practical Parsimony said...

I have been making jelly since I was about 12. As an adult, I make jelly because that is what my family did and the apples were free. NOW, I still enjoy the eating and making of jelly. But, reading the ingredients on jelly jars and jam jars is more of a motivator.

Joanne said...

A certain fiance of mine refuses to eat PB+J's with anything other than Welch's! But I would feel much better about him eating this homemade alternative. Sounds great!

Bill said...

I've always thought about canning and your post has inspired me. With summer coming and many different options for canning including jams and jellies, this might be the year to explore. Thanks for a great post and I'm with you on the PBJ sandwich!

Roz Corieri Paige said...

What a wonderful and TIMELY post! All sorts of spring fruits have been popping up and I've frozen sheets (and then bags) of them so I can can them this summer. I love how you you helped with the step by step photos! SO HELPFUL! Happy Mother's Day, Debby!