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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. When you prune your vines you should take out all the branches that have had fruit this year, and keep the new branches which will bear next year’s fruit. I got it wrong the first year and got almost no grapes.

  2. Diana

    Don’t throw unset jelly out. Use it as a sauce over yoghurt or ice-cream. Shiraz jelly is good, espcialy with roast meats like pork, turkey, lamb or chicken. Try it with peanut paste on toast!

  3. mauramac

    I have a small amount of grapes ready to make first batch of jelly. I see you don’t use pectin or apples to help with the set and wonder if this depends on the type of grape you use. Mine are just seedless red grapes from Spain. Most other recipes suggest using a bottle of liquid pectin or packet powdered pectin to get a set. Did you get a good set with yours because of the grapes being sour type rather than eating grapes? Thanks for any help.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Mauramac

      I used slightly sour seeded grapes for my recipe. If I were you and using sweet seedless grapes I’d add a cooking apple including seeds and core to the simmered fruit. Even a dash of fresh lemon juice if you are pectin-worried. Then all should be well and set very easily.

      After you’ve added the sugar, taste taste taste before you bring the jelly up to the boil. This is the one time that you can adjust flavours to your particular palate – if too sour add more sugar if too sweet add more lemon juice. Add either incrementally to avoid disaster!

  4. Hi Great recipe and tasted fabulous en route BUT I am obviously doing something wrong as I got a similar result to the time I made Quince Jelly. I ended up with syrup or actually more like brittle toffee apple coating when set. I must have gone past the setting point so I am wondering when drizzling onto a cold plate how long do you wait before dragging your finger through and expecting to see the wrinkles? (I thought I might have simmered last time so this time I certainly had a rolling boil!)

  5. mcCutcheon

    Hi! I had a ton of grapes and we’re about to leave for two weeks so I gave this recipe a go. It took forever to set and I might have left it a bit too long in the end but this is going to be soooo good with peanut butter 🙂

  6. to the person who had honey like jelly – possibly you boiled to long and to slow.
    To others who were worried about re boiling jelly that didn’t set, go for it. Just make sure its a good boil, not a gentle simmer or you will end up with the toffee/honey problem of the previous person. Going to try this recipe out, getting a bit sick of just making grape juice!

  7. Hi,

    Firtly – Love the site! sooo glad i found it! You guys are living my dream!

    I am planning to have a go at this jelly this afternoon, but I cant help wondering (as I hate waste) having made the jelly, could the remaining mush be used up in my next batch of jam? or do you think that it would not be worth the effort?


  8. Eileen Ball

    My neighbours vine has loads of grapes this year. I picked plenty from our side of the boundary and offered them across the fence, but they were kindly returned to me. The grapes are too tart to eat and so I followed this basic recipe but added some Bramley apples to the grapes. The jelly is absolutely lovely, thanks

  9. I’ve got a grape vine (South West region of the United Kingdom) that produces the tartest grapes I’ve ever tasted – I’m going to try your recipe. 🙂 My tip for sterilising and heating jam jars – use the dishwasher! It works for me, providing you time the end of the programme.

  10. Hello Clare

    I have just read your comments and thought I would report on how my jam making skills turned out too.

    I admit I also broke a few rules along the way. I decided not to cook all 10 kilos of grapes as advised above so I froze 8 kilos and cooked a 2 kilo batch. This produced 3 pints of juice. I squeezed every last bit out of the muslin jelly bag!

    I added the juice of 2 lemons and also decided to buy sugar with apple pectin instead of the normal granulated sugar in the recipe. This may have been a mistake because the setting stage came around really quickly and I think I may have over boiled the juice. The taste is rather sweet and toffee like. A bit like the toffee you get on toffee apples so I am thinking the sugar with added pectin may be too sweet.

    I haven’t opened any of the jars yet so I could be pleasantly surprised in that it has set properly. I will keep you posted when I do decide to eat it. I am thinking it will be nice with Cheese!

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