The grapes are ripe! The weather is hot and dry and it’s time to make juice before they disappear under an onslaught by wasps, cedar waxwings, deer, and fox. Ripe grapes are appealing to lots of the local wildlife. We grow northern vine varieties Beta (a purple sport of Concord) and Somerset (seedless white) that are hardy and ripen reliably in Maine’s short growing season. These vines have been in place for five years, and are growing in poor but well drained soil on the side of the driveway.
I’m not sure if the “birdscare balloon” actually drives off birds or not – the vines are so loaded with fruit that it’s hard to gauge depredation. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves for protection against slippery fruit on the ground, stinging insects, and prickly brambles grown up into the vines. . .if you’re picking into a metal container try to keep it shaded so you don’t injure the fruit.
I use the stainless steel basket from my steam juicer to pick into so I know when I have enough for a batch. I used to pick when the grapes were dead ripe and a uniform black-purple, but I’ve recently discovered that the juice has more flavor if picked slightly before that stage – with red, dark maroon, and even a few green grapes in each batch.
The stainless steel basket in the previous photo becomes the top third of the steamer shown here when assembled. The grapes cook quickly and in about 20 minutes the clear tube to the middle portion will show purple and I’ll be able to drain off the juice into the large pot on the right. Use caution – right out of the tube the liquid is still close to the boiling point! I add about 1 cup of sugar for every 2 of juice, decant immediately into canning jars and process in a steam canner for 20 minutes.
This batch of juice is about half and half white Somerset and blue Beta but you would never know from the color of the final product. Because it cooks without adding water, the steam juicer produces a concentrate that we cut at least 50 per cent with water or seltzer to drink. It also makes the best popsicles in the world and next year I’m planning to experiment with a batch of garbage can wine. . .