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. Rosie (@greenrosielife)

    Friends have just given us some rather tart and seeds grapes so I am going to give this a go. Hope all is well with you.

  2. B M Green

    Slow cooking is only to make sure the sugar has dissolved. You need a full rolling boil to approx 105 degrees on a jam thermometer. Test as directed.

  3. Ann Clarke

    Hi, well I have used the recipe above to the book, I brought it up to Temp, boiled slowly for 10 mins placed my plate in freezer, took it out placed it backk in the freezer, and its not setting,
    I am a jam maker, and have never had this problem before, I,covered the grapes in the first instance, as directed…& Let it drain until the,anyone out there have any answers please.
    Awaiting in anticipation
    Regards Ann.x

    • Yvonne Randall

      I recently made grape jelly with Fragolino grapes. The smell and taste is amazing. However, I was really disappointed to find that the jelly was still liquid even after it had cooled. Muttering to myself about the time and effort not being equal to the result, I set it aside. Amazingly, next day I checked it only to find that it had set. Don’t give up.

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