The Cottage Smallholder

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Grape Jelly recipe

grapes for our sour grape jelly

A small bunch of our grapes

When I first came here I planted a spindly grape vine on a trellis at the back of the pond garden. This was part of a master plan to disguise a neighbour’s rusty corrugated iron fence. I was purely interested in the look of the vine. Large leaves through the summer and decorative gnarled stems in the winter.

Pottering by the pond last summer, I spotted a tiny bunch of grapes peeking out from under a vine leaf. Closer inspection revealed a mini harvest of grapes, puny but fat and dark. Thrilled with the prospect of making wine with our own grapes I rushed back to the house to locate my winemaking book. I was shocked to find that you need about 14 pounds of grapes to make a gallon of wine.

Danny was enthusiastic, “I’m sure that we could make jelly from these,” he said as he grabbed the secateurs and the mini trug. We made five pots and christened it ˜Sour Grape Jelly’. This was pretty good stuff, quite a sparky sort of jelly and good with roast meat or game. I resolved to prune the vine so as to get a better harvest this year.

I looked on the Internet and in our gardening books for vine pruning directions. Opinions seemed to be divided about whether to prune early, avoiding ˜bleeding’ but risking frost damage or leave the vine until late spring and knock out a lot of the harvest. All the vines in the pictures looked young, nothing like our sleeping beauty vine with its thick gnarled trunk. When I read further, it seemed that the grape growing potential of our vine was limited. Vines need decent husbandry from the start.

I optimistically printed out the best pruning directions and these were knocking about on the kitchen table for months. They must have been swept up during a quick tidy up. So one sunny day in early spring, I grabbed my lumberjack saw, hacked away, and inadvertently over-pruned.

We’ve had some grapes this year, enough for a few pots of jelly. These bunches were plucked from parts of the vine untouched by the saw. Perhaps the fierce cutting back will produce a bumper harvest next year. But maybe the vine’s destiny is to be an independent, romping along sort of vine. Rather than a productive grape jelly making machine.

You will need a heavy bottomed saucepan or Maslin pan.
Also see our recipe for Grape Jam

Piquant Grape Jelly Recipe
Recipe Type: Preserve
Author: Fiona Nevile
If your grapes have no pips, add an apple (chopped but not cored or skinned) in step 3 of the instructions.
  • 1 kilo / 2 1/4 pounds or more of grapes from a vine
  • Our grapes have pips and these help the jelly to set. Ours took 15 minutes to set this evening, from the rolling boil stage.
  • White granulated sugar
  • Water
  • Sterlised jars (how do I sterilise jars? See Tips and Tricks below)
  1. Wash the grapes and discard and bad ones.
  2. Pull the grapes away from the stalks and place in a deep heavy bottomed saucepan or preserving pan.
  3. Barely cover the grapes with water and bring to the boil and simmer gently until the grapes are soft.
  4. Keep an eye on them, stirring from time to time. Top up with water if necessary. (I mashed them gently with a plastic potato masher to hurry them along).
  5. A length of muslin is often referred to as a “jelly bag”.
  6. Pour the cooked fruit through sterilised muslin into a large clean bucket or bowl (how do I sterilise muslin/the jelly bag? See Tips and tricks below).
  7. We use tall buckets to catch the drips from the jelly bags. Rather than hang the bags (conventional method-between the legs of an upturned stool) I find it easier to line a large plastic sieve with the muslin. This clips neatly onto the top of a clean bucket. The sieve is covered with a clean tea cloth to protect against flies.
  8. Leave the jelly bag to drip overnight (or about 12 hours).
  9. Measure the juice the next day.
  10. Put your jars into the oven to sterilise them.
  11. Pour the juice into a deep heavy bottomed saucepan and add 1 pound/454g of white granulated sugar for each 1 UK pint / 570ml / 2 1/2 cups of juice.
  12. Heat the juice and sugar gently stirring from time to time, so as to make sure that that all the sugar has dissolved before bringing the liquid slowly to the boil.
  13. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes before testing for a set. This is called a rolling boil. Test every 4 minutes until setting point is reached. (What is testing for a set? See tips and tricks below).
  14. Tossing in a nugget of butter towards the end will reduce the frothing that can occur.
  15. When jelly has reached setting point pour into warm sterilised jars using a funnel and ladle.
  16. Cover immediately with plastic lined screw top lids or waxed disks and cellophane tops secured with a rubber band.
  17. Label when cold and store in a cool, dark place. Away from damp.

Tips and tricks:

What is a jelly bag?
A jelly bag is traditionally a piece of muslin but it can be cheesecloth, an old thin tea cloth or even a pillowcase.
The piece needs to be about 18 inches square.
When your fruit is cooked and ready to be put in the jelly bag, lay your cloth over a large bowl. Pour the fruit into the centre of the cloth and tie the four corners together so that they can be slung on a stick to drip over the bowl.
Traditionally a stool is turned upside down, the stick is rested on the wood between the legs and the jelly bag hangs over the bowl.
We experimented and now line a sieve with muslin, place it over a bucket and cover the lot with clean tea towels (against the flies).

How do I sterilise muslin/the jelly bag?
Iron the clean jelly bag with a hot iron. This method will also sterilise tea towels.

Jelly “set” or “setting point”?
Getting the right set can be tricky. I have tried using a jam thermometer (and it is 103c or 104c – 217f/220f) but find it easier to use the following method.
Before you start to make the jelly, put a couple of plates in the fridge so that the warm jam can be drizzled onto a cold plate (when we make jam we often forget to return the plate to the fridge between tests, using two plates means that you have a spare cold plate).
Return the plate to the fridge to cool for approx two minutes.
It has set when you run your finger through it and this leaves a crinkly mark.

My jelly hasn’t set properly. What can I do?
If you think that the jelly has not set properly, you can reboil it the next day.
The boiling reduces the water in the jelly. I have done this in the past. Ideally you should try for the right set the first time.


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  1. A bit of a nubee at making jam/jelly. I had some grapes in the garden and decided to give it a go -Great site by the way.
    I thougt I would share my experience.
    I do not know the type of grapes but they are small purple with large pips. I had 3.6 kg of grapes – 1st rule broken I made jelly with the lot. I added cooking apples to the grapes (just to be sure of pectin level) and boiled them up. They past the pectin test. I strained them giving me 6 1/2 pints of juice. Next rule broken I did not add all the sugar, I added 2/3 therefore just over 4lbs. I boiled it up (while jars steralised). Test on cold plates (good tip) and nothing, not a crinkle, boiled a bit longer, nothing. Just when I started to think it would never reach the setting point it really foamed up. I gave it a stir (added a knob of butter) and notice it started to look and feel different – Oh a crinkle appeared. I let it boil a bit longer 5 mins and retested. Looking good. I put it into jars 12 *8oz jars plus one big jar. I waited. IN the morning – great jelly – dark purple and set still holding it’s taste through the sugar – VERY pleased with myself. Thank you for all your advice and comments.

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Charlie

    I do hope that it turned out well for you.

    Hello Grace

    I’d advise against doubling up this recipe. Making jelly is must easier when you are using small amounts. As I don’t tend to make large batches I can’t advise. If you do multiply the amounts I’d love to hear how you get on ?

    Sometimes I freeze fruit to make jelly later.

  3. Hi

    I have just picked about 10 Kilo’s of grapes yesterday which are red with pips and are very sweet. Rather than doing 10 separate batches can i make the jelly with all of them in one go and just increase the quantities of sugar and water as necessary. I dont want to jeopardise the setting of the jelly by doing this so do you have any recommendations on the quantity of water and the cooking time?

    Thank you

  4. Hi
    I harvested my grapes today and I have four massive boxes of them now. I think I’ll make this with some of the grapes and see how it goes. They’re quite small, dark and tart.

  5. Alexandra

    Can one use a juice extracter instead of a muslin bag?

  6. My neighbour gave me a shopping bag half full of grapes yesterday. What to do? Remembering the grape jelly Grandma made I decided to try to make jelly using your receipe and tips to guide me.
    My first two cup batch I think will be more like jam, but tasty all the same. The second may take longer to set, but was spoon licking good according to my six year old. Conclusion… Delicious! Feels really good to be real and show my kids the connection to a start to end process rather than just buying something at the store.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hello J-lar

    Thanks for these tips. Much appreciated!

    Hi Charlene

    Sometimes jelly takes a while to set. Any jelly you just need to be patient. I have waited for an hour for a jelly to set and also find that it has set in a few minutes. There are a lot of variables. If you leave the seeds in the first simmer before you strain you will have the likelihood of a better set. Lemon juice helps a jelly to set. After a while you will get a feel for it.

    I never use a commercial setting agent and have stopped using sugar with added pectin as it makes the jelly taste strange.

    I do hope that you resolved your problem. If you make jelly in smaller batches it is much easier to get it just right. Once you go over a couple of pints you are more likely to have problems.

    Hi c pylka

    Did your grapes have seeds? Did you use the amount of water as per the recipe. If you use too much water any jelly can be a bit of a devil to set. The setting process is just removing the water content until the juice can reach setting point.

    Don’t give up.

    Hi Jenny

    Great that it worked for you!

    I like it with Brie too.

    Hello Steve and Ali

    Hope that you tried the recipe. Our grape jam is a bit of a revelation too. Sweet and tart (the skins are sour). Lovely for breakfast or afternoon tea or anytime!

    Hi Sou

    I just don’t know what went wrong. Ideally it’s a jelly, clear and tart yet sweet tasting. If it’s the consistency of honey something has gone very wrong.

    Hello Becky

    I hope that you got a good set. Thanks so much for leaving a comment.

  8. becky brown

    Wow! That is “piquant”! The flavour was not like I imagined, really sour but sooo tasty.
    I let it bubble away to make sure it set as I have made that mistake with blackberry jelly and had to reboil it the next day.
    Its not yet cool but by the look of the test saucer and the teaspoon there will be a good set.
    Incidently I used the juice of about 1/2 lemon with my 500g grapes. (added to the juice after straining and before sugar). Thanks!! Bx

  9. Hello, what a lovely site. I have just had a go at making the grape jelly. I have no experience of jelly in the jamlike sense of the word so I’m wondering if I have gone wrong somewhere or if jelly is just a different consistency. I was expecting something like seedless lime jam (but with a grape taste :-)) but instead seem to have made something dark brown with the consistency of thick honey – the grapes were green and pippy (they were donated by a friend who said they were a wine-making variety). The taste is also quite harsh (unlike the grape liquor which was delicious) although there is no evidence of anything burning or catching on the pan.
    Have I gone wrong somewhere?

    Many thanks

  10. STEVE and ALI

    We’ve got about 3 kilos of very small very tart grapes laid out on newspaper on the kitchen table thinking they would ripen in the weak british sunshine!going to try your recipe,hoping that its idiot proof!!!will let you know. cheers Steve

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