Unexpected Grape Jelly

Mike has a grape vine in the front of the house.  For the past few years, the grape harvest has been negligible, so I haven’t come to expect grapes.  But, this year, we got enough grapes to do something with.  But, what?  Make grape jelly, of course!

Mike can’t remember what type of grapes they are.  They are small, dark purple, and the seed-to-fruit ratio is high.  Their flavor is ultra-grapey and sweet.
A respectable harvest!
First, rinse the grapes and take them off of the vines. It doesn’t really matter that there are still bits of stem attached to the grapes because everything will eventually get put through the food mill.
Simmer the grapes until they release a lot of juice.
Then, put the mixture from the pan through the food mill. This separates the juice & pulp from the skin, seeds, and bits of stem. I think I used the smallest grate, as the seeds are small and I didn’t want them passing through.
I wound up with 4 cups of juice/pulp to make the jelly. This is really the perfect amount of any fruit for a small batch. I have found that the easiest, quickest way to make any kind of jam (and now, jelly!) is to use Pomona’s Pectin and follow the instructions on the package insert. I put the juice back in to the pan with sugar & the pectin, brought it to a boil, and turned it off before ladleing it into the jars and processing them in boiling water.
The finished product – about 2 pints of grape jelly.

When presented with options for jelly or jam, grape has never been my choice.  There is always something unnatural about the way that grape products (other than wine!) taste to me.  But, I can safely say that this jelly is so delicious.  The flavor is intensely, honestly grapey.  I now understand where the description “jammy” as applied to wine comes from.  I wish I would have videoed Mike while he was tasting the jam, as his reaction was the most earnest and delighted “YUM” I’ve ever heard him utter.

I always say that the fact that any preserved foods I make are good is not because of me, but rather because of the quality of the raw materials.  I’m learning that, in most cases, simple preparations without a lot of added flavors are best.

Expect Tomatoes in August

Here’s a note for my future self: expect tomatoes in August, not July.

In July, I was ready to throw in the towel on my tomato farming endeavors.  The few fruits were green and not ripening very fast.  The plants grew into a jungly mess and I had to prune off long straggly branches and haphazardly stake them to prevent them from collapsing.  We had blossom end rot on several plants.

But, come August, things turned around.  We got the blossom end rot under control by adding lime to the soil.  Nature did her trick, and once the days became reliably warm, we magically started to have ripe tomatoes.




For having 9 plants, we have not been overwhelmed by tomatoes.  We didn’t prune our plants when they were small.  According to some wisdom, this makes the plants concentrate on growing foliage, not fruit.  On the other hand, I know some people who have never pruned their tomato plants, and they are overloaded with fruit.  Next year, I think I’ll try pruning the plants when they are young to see if it makes a difference in the yield of fruit.


And finally, an update on Mike’s giant Tahitian squash.  You may remember that I pruned it back after the plant started to trail and strangle the tomato plants in the same bed.  This made the plant very unhappy.  But!  Despite the savagery I unleashed on the squash to save the tomatoes, we still ended up with two giant squash.  Mike is very happy with his twins.



A Prune is Not Always a Dried Plum…

Until two years ago, I thought that a prune was just a dried plum.

My mind was blown two summers ago when Mike started talking about his prune trees and his plum trees.  Brace yourself for some history and plant nerdery – I’ll explain the difference!  Unless otherwise cited, all information comes from here.

Prunus Domestica (European-origin plums)
Prunus Salicina (Asian-origin plums)

When we talk about prune trees and plum trees, we’re talking about related plants that came to California from different parts of the world.  What we know as prune trees evolved from prunus domestica, which were brought to California by European settlers.  In the 1850s, French horticulturalists Louis and Pierre Pellier brought what is now known as the “French prune” trees to California, first selling them from their nursery in San Jose.  Prune production in the Santa Clara Valley in the late 1800s and first half of the 1900s contributed to it being coined the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

Source: Cooper-Garrod Vineyard
Source: SJSU Archives


Prunes have a higher sugar content than what we know know as “plums,” which allows them to dry without fermenting around the pit.   Since Californian prune production has declined in the last half-century, I believe that what are sold now as “pitted prunes” are mainly dried plums, as they don’t contain the pits.

Asian “plum” and European “prune”

What we know as plums are derivatives of prunus salicina, and were brought to California from Japan in the 1870s.  Luther Burbank bred and introduced many of the most popular cultivars that we enjoy today, most notably the Santa Rosa Plum.

Source: Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
We’ve got wild plums, too!

The plant genus prunus contains plums, peaches, cherries and…almonds!  “Prune” comes from the Latin prunus.  French-speaking friends (and Google Translate) told us that “prune” is French for “plum.”  Going further down the rabbit hole, the word “plum” comes from the Old English plume.  So, just like we have completely different names for the same things in modern language, the words “prune” and “plum” derived from Latin and Old English and are labels for the same genus of fruit.

I recently listened to the most recent episode of the Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast, in which senior teacher Richard Freeman talks about how the human tendency towards labeling things can create confusion.  In the context of that conversation, he was talking about different names for the same yoga posture.  The same applies here to plums and prunes – they are simply different names for essentially the same thing.

The pits and the flesh of the plums and prunes are quite different.

I love the old prune trees that were likely planted on Mike’s land during the heyday of prune production in Santa Clara County.  Though we’re up out of the valley, they remind me that we live in a place that was once dominated by agriculture, not technology.  This land is a respite from the daily chaos that greets me down in the 21st century world.  These old trees are a reminder that, though much changes over time, nature does her best to endure.

Mixed prune & plum jam.