The Beta grapes are ready to harvest. Beta is a cross with Concord, those huge sprawling vines that took over rock walls and climbed into trees where I grew up in central Connecticut. Here in Maine the growing season is too short for Concord to ripen reliably, so Beta with its smaller grapes and quick growth is a winner. This season it took me 15 minutes to fill the steam juicer basket, and I estimate I have at least 10 more baskets-worth waiting on the vine. Fortunately, we own a Mehu-Liisa steam juicer and quarts of dense, fragrant grape juice concentrate will be less work than you might think.
So now you have a full steamer basket of grapes – what next?
Rinse the full basket under the sprayer of your kitchen faucet, or outdoors with the garden hose. The water that clings to the fruit will dilute your product, so if you have time you can let the basket drip dry. If not, I’ve processed batches both ways and the difference is negligible. Press the grapes gently with a potato masher or wooden spoon to ensure a tight seal with the lid (I always fill the basket to overflowing), turn the burner on to medium, and let the whole thing sit until you hear water boiling in the bottom pot.
When you hear a vigorous boil you can turn the heat down to a high simmer. Cook until the fruit has lost color and at least half its mass. This full basket of grapes will turn into about four cups of stems, seeds, and tired-looking skins in about 25 minutes. Harder fruit such as quince, apples, and Seckel pears take up to an hour.
The silicon tube can be clamped off, but it does leak a tiny bit under pressure. This grape juice is like purple dye so I like to keep it contained in the lower pot. Sometimes I draw off some juice half-way through the process to make more room in the pot, but it’s not necessary.
One design note: Mehu-Liisa designed the juice collection pot so that the hose begins level with the bottom. Whatever small amount of sediment is steamed out of your fruit will pass along with the juice – there’s no lip to keep it out – so if you’re going for a blue ribbon jelly at the State Fair you may want to strain the final product. Personally, I don’t mind and think it adds to the flavor.
The next step is to add sugar to taste – for me that’s about a cup of white cane sugar per pint of juice concentrate – and decant into hot, sterile canning jars. Cap with hot lids according to canning instructions, and then off to the steam canner.
I process the quarts for 20 minutes in the steam canner, it won’t hurt the occasional pint jar to be in for that long.
I like my steam canner better than a water bath or pressure cooker, but that’s a whole other blog post – possibly coming soon. Now, off to juice some of the vast quantities of tomatoes that are ripening in the lower garden!
The internet is a wonderful thing – here’s an excellent blog all about canning with your Mehu-Liisa. The author mentions something I didn’t – the grape juice coming down that silicon tube is hot!