Hello to all! Sadly, we’ve allowed this fast paced life to get in the way of keeping in touch with you yet again! It’s been two whole months since I sent you any love notes from our garden. What we HAVE done, is take pictures and keep notes of what’s been happening at MEEP. My goal is to eventually catch you up on all of it. For today, let’s talk about grapes! We’ve had a rather cool summer and I believe that is the reason our grapes are ready so soon. They’ve been ready for harvest for a few weeks now, but it was just this past Wednesday where we were able to do some harvesting. Marlon and I had two additional helpers (special thanks to Anika and Re for all their help!) so we spent the evening harvesting grapes (well, and tomatoes, peppers, and corn, but that’s another tale!).
Even with leaving many not fully ripe bunches on the vine and bullying anyone in the vicinity to take more grapes home with them, we ended up with about 15 pounds of grapes. Now that’s way too many to eat before they spoil! So, we determined we had no other choice but to make some kind of alcoholic beverage! We did this two years ago and called it grape mead. Technically that’s a misnomer because we only use a bit of honey and it’s mostly the grapes that ferment and make the alcohol. We should probably call it grape wine, but grape mead sounds so much cooler!
This is rather labor intensive, but I believe it’s so worth it! Here is the “how to” (please note I’m using the large quantities we had, you’ll have to do a bit of dividing math to determine the quantities based on what you have of grapes!):
What you need:
-Fresh Grapes (we had 15 pounds, which became 34 cups de-stemmed)
-water (we used 6 cups)
-honey ( we used 1 cup)
-champagne yeast (we used 1/5 packet per gallon)
-glass container or carboy (you can probably use plastic…)
-lid (or get fancy and get yourself an airlock and carboy bung)
1) De-stem all your grapes (it’s not a big deal if the little stem actually attached to the grapes doesn’t come off, because ultimately you’ll be straining it)
2) Wash your grapes very well (can’t have cobwebs, dirt, or bugs in your grape juice!)
3) Place grapes in stock pot and mash them up (I used a potato masher); this will yield quite a bit of juice
4) Add a small amount of water (we had 34 cups of grapes (measured before mashing) and only added 6 cups of water; you can add less if you wish!)
5) Cook your grapes until they start to boil and then turn off the pot.
6) Add in your honey (we used one cup per gallon – feel free to eyeball it, the honey can be to taste!)
7) Cover with lid, and let it sit for a few hours (we let it sit overnight; frankly this step may not be necessary, but we do it to ensure the grapes get all soft and mushy for maximum juice extraction)
Strain your grapes using the mesh strainer to get the majority of the grape mush separated from the juice (this initial straining yielded about a gallon and a quarter of juice)
9) Use a cheesecloth to strain the rest of the grape mush (we got about an additional half gallon out of it)
10) Once it’s separated from the grape mush, strain your grape juice a total of about 4 times before you place it into your glass jug (make sure you’ve sanitized your glass jugs!) to get as much of the sediment out of it as possible
11) You now have grape juice you can chill and enjoy! If you wish to convert it into an alcoholic beverage, just a shake in a bit of champagne yeast (the rule is one gram per gallon). Also, we have waaayyy more champagne yeast than we need, so hit us up if you need some!
12) IMPORTANT IF MAKING ALCOHOL: You must leave room in your bottle (recommend you only fill up to the neck) and you must leave a way for gases to escape during the fermentation process. If using recycled wine jugs like we did, you can just put the lid on and not close it super tight – the metal caps aren’t air tight. I just purchases some carboys (fancy word for wine jug), airlocks (lets the gases out but doesn’t let air into the bottle), and carboy bungs (rubber stopper with a hole for the airlock that seals in the jar) so we’ll soon be venturing into the more correct way to be making wine. Store your jug in a cool dark place for a minimum of six weeks (if not converting into alcohol, you should store it in the fridge!).
STRAINING TIPS: I recommend you start with a mesh strainer. What I did was pour the grape liquidy pulp into the strainer and use a spoon to help get the juice through. I then dumped the remaining pulp into a separate bowl. I rinsed the strainer between each pour. Some of the pulp will leak out and line the outside bottom of the strainer – just scrape it into the pulp bowl with a spoon!
When moving on to strain contents in the pulp bowl (which, by this time, will no longer be just pulp, but you’ll actually see quite a bit of juice in it again), use your cheesecloth to strain it. What Marlon did was cover the top of a funnel with the cheesecloth (he cut it to be just big enough to cover the funnel and have a bit hang over the edges), dumped in some pulp, gathered up all the edges of the cheesecloth, and squeezed to get the juice out. This will be done until you have gone through all your pulp. You may need to replace the cheesecloth piece several times. In between each filling with pulp, rinse out the cheesecloth.
Once you’ve done all the pulp, you should strain your liquid through the mesh strainer once or twice more, then strain the juice through a cheesecloth a few times. If you don’t do this, you’ll end up with a lot of sediment at the bottom of your juice.
So, there you have it, grape juice from grapes! Delicious! The color is beautiful! Swing by MEEP in the next few weeks to get some fresh grapes so you can try to do this yourself!