It’s that time of year again. The weather is hot and humid, tomatoes are coming on and the birds have signaled that it’s time to pick grapes.
We have two grape vines. One is four years old, the other more than twenty. Both yield dependable crops with no discernible difference between them production-wise. Grapes are almost supernaturally generous when it comes to fruit and are an ideal choice for the urban garden.
This is an average harvest, plenty enough for our purposes.
I have tried various methods for turning grapes into juice over the years: cooking and straining, mortar and pestle and, most recently, an old champion juicer. Last year I finally gave up on the juicer. Eight hours of picking, cleaning, running through the machine and filling bags proved to be too much at this stage of life. On the recommendation of a fellow wine-maker, I turned to steam extraction this time. Since this was my first time to use this device, many mistakes were made. Perhaps I can save fellow newbies from some of the sorrows I experienced along the way.
Steamers come in three sections: bottom for boiling water, middle for juice and a top basket for fruit. The idea is simple. Steam cooks juice out of the grapes and runs out a hose into your catch-container. So…fill the bottom 3/4 full of water, set the middle on top, cram the fruit into the top basket, add fire and wait. I learned a few refinements the hard way, at least when it comes to grapes. First, although you can leave the grapes on the stems (a huge advance over the pick-each-grape-off-the-stem-and-run-through-a-mechanical-juicer), you can pack more grapes into the basket if you do a bit of rough cutting first. Nothing fancy, just snip the bunches in halves or thirds. Next, you need some place for the juice to go so plan ahead. I used a big stock pot. Extraction is slower than might be expected (over an hour and a half per load in my kitchen) but you’ll know when you’re done when the hose quits spitting. A bit more product can be coaxed out by lifting the top lid and stirring the contents for one last spurt. Clamp off your hose before the next step or you’ll be sorry.
Every time you finish a load, refresh the water in the bottom pan. You don’t want to ruin a fancy juicer by letting your pot run dry!
Next, you have to figure out how to safely transfer the juice into whatever containers you’re going to store the juice in. I make wine but am not ready to do it right now so I decided to temporarily store the harvest in the freezer.
For this you’ll need….
…..a quantity of quart freezer bags and a bag filler.
For those unfamiliar with the alien device known as a bag filler, this thing is a must for those in possession of only two hands. Be forewarned: it’s only useful for quarts. I learned the hard way the results of plopping a gallon bag onto this thing. It only takes one time for scalding, hot juice to run down all your cabinets and behind the stove to learn this lesson.
The saintly hubby who cleaned up the mess also strongly advised I use the sink next time. Pre-planning is everything when it comes to food processing. I arranged my bag-filling operation at a convenient height using a soup pot and it worked great.
And here it is: Voila! Grape juice safely poured into bags, ready for the freezer. I will make jelly or wine later in the season when the garden has slowed. May those who read this avoid the bone-head moves I made. Happy juicing!