Grapes grow very well in the poor soil and harsh climate of coastal Maine. Our season is too short to ripen some of the classics, like the real Concord grape that made huge hedgerows of fragrant fruit at my parent’s home in Connecticut. Fortunately, there’s Beta. From the Fedco catalog:
Originated by Louis Suelter (pronounced Sool-ter) in Minn, 1881. Beta was named after his wife and is pronounced Bett-uh not Bay-tuh. Old standby, excellent for juice, jelly and jam. Decent eating off the vine when completely ripe. Medium-sized black berries in moderately compact to loose clusters. Early to bloom, early to ripen. Vigorous healthy productive vines extremely hardy to zone 3.
Our Beta vine is almost 20 years old and the multiple trunks are as big around as my wrist at the base. Last year I bought two more Beta and a Somerset seedless with “medium-sized loose clusters with small sweet ruddy reddish-golden fruit” for variety. I’ve been making grape jelly all these years, but the vines produced so much fruit in 2010 that I made a dozen quart jars of juice for variety. (As a bonus, the juice is much easier to can.) We broke it out for the first time last night and that’s it for me – all future grape harvests are going to juice. It’s AMAZING.
From the Blue Book:
Wash, crush and measure grapes. Add 1 C water* to each gallon of grape mash. Heat mixture 10 minutes at 190 degrees – do not boil. Strain through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. For a greater yield (if you don’t mind a little cloudiness or sediment) twist the bag to squeeze all the juice out.
Now the BB instructs you to let the juice stand 24 hours in the refrigerator, ladle it out into another pan (being careful not to disturb the sediment) and strain it again. If you, like me, are short on refrigerator space, big pans, and patience during harvest season you can skip this step. The juice will still be incredible and probably have even more nutrients. On the other hand, if you’re looking to enter your flawless grape juice at the Blue Hill Fair, by all means strain away.
Measure juice. Add 1 – 2 C sugar to each gallon. Reheat to 190. Ladle hot juice into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Adjust two piece caps. Process pints and quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner.
This makes a concentrated juice and we cut it half and half with seltzer.
* The BB always assumes you have clean fresh well water available. If you’re using chlorinated water you may get a better result if you let the water stand in an open pitcher for a day before using.