When I was growing up, my grandparents had a grapevine in their yard. My cousins and I would watch those grapes all summer as they grew from tiny green spheres into fully ripe, dark purple grapes. Come late summer, our whole family would be standing out by the grapevine, eating grapes and talking for hours at a time.
August just isn’t complete without the sweet taste of concord grapes.
My home now also has grapevines in the yard. They didn’t produce well the first summer we lived here, but after my husband set in and started taking care of them after years of neglect, they have been producing abundant grapes. While my daughters and I love to stand out in the yard and eat them straight off the vine, I’ve had to find something else to do with all of the grapes we have.
I’ve made jelly a few times, but this year I decided to follow my mother-in-law’s advice and make some homemade grape juice. She has been making grape juice for years and was able to pass on some wisdom to me.
How to Make Grape Juice
Let me start out by saying that making grape juice is a time consuming process. It’s worth it in the long run, but expect the process to take several hours.
What You Need
- Large pot
- Cheesecloth (find unbleached cheesecloth here)
- Jars/lids (find them here)
- Canning kit (find them here)
- Pressure Canner (Matt & Betsy use & recommend this one)
Like I said before, we have fantastic grapevines in our yard, so we are able to pick our own concord grapes. If we weren’t able to, I would keep an eye out at our local farmer’s market. I’ve only ever used concord grapes, but I see no reason that muscadines or scuppernongs couldn’t be used, too.
When picking grapes, I take shears and several buckets out. I cut off entire bunches of ripe grapes. You may get a few less-than-perfect ones, but you’ll be able to separate those out later.
Washing the Grapes
I pick the grapes from the bunches as I wash them. The good ones go in the big cooking pot, the bad ones go in the bowl of stems. Bad grapes include those that aren’t yet ripe, those that are too ripe, and those that have insect damage. I wash the grapes well, under cold water, but it is nice to know that they’ve come from our own yard and haven’t been exposed to pesticides. (Though we did spray the leaves with our homemade hot pepper spray early in the season.)
Making Grape Juice
When you have washed all your good grapes and put them in your big cooking pot, you’re going to add just enough water to cover your grapes. Keep in mind that this juice will still be fairly concentrated, but it will be thin enough that it isn’t too hard to strain.
To cook the grapes, put them on high heat until they are nearly boiling. Then reduce heat to medium and let them simmer for ten minutes or so. Look for the skins to break apart separate, and the water will turn deep purple.
Next, you’re going to strain the juice. There are a few ways to do this, many of which involve special equipment, but I just poured the juice slowly over a flat strainer (like this) that covered a large bowl. Do you have to use the flat strainer? No. I’m a big proponent of using what you have. You can use a mesh colander with cheesecloth over it too, or any of the specialized equipment that’s available for juice making. (Personally, I have my eye on this juice strainer.) After separating most of the juice from the pulp, I put the rest of the pulp in cheesecloth over the pot and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. That step isn’t necessary, but it was nice to break the work into two days and to get every bit of the juice out of the pulp.
The next morning, I ran the grape juice through the cheesecloth one more time, pouring it a little at a time back into the pot. I was surprised at how much sediment the cheesecloth caught.
My next step was to sweeten the juice. If you want your juice to be unsweetened just skip this step. There are benefits to keeping your grape juice unsweetened, including the fact that you can turn it into jelly at a later time if you like. I chose to sweeten mine because I wanted it to be drinking juice. To sweeten your grape juice, heat it up on the stove again and add sugar (or other sweetener of your choice) to taste. I had about a gallon of juice and used a cup and a half of sugar. I recommend putting in half a cup of sugar at a time until the grape juice has reached your desired level of sweetness. Make sure you stir well until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Storing the Grape Juice
Once you have your grape juice made, you have a few options for how to store it. I canned mine in the pressure canner, but you can also can it using the water bath method. There are directions for this in any canning book. If you’re a lucky soul with lots of freezer space, it’s good to know that grape juice also freezes well.
Make sure to keep a little bit out, though, because after all this work you’re definitely going to need a glass of your homemade grape juice as a reward.