They Grow Wild and Free
As far as wild ideas go, the decision to make wild Mustang grape jelly fits the bill. Wild idea. Wild grapes.
Texas is blessed with abundance, usually, and I do wonder about what my great, great, great grandparents thought about Texas when they emigrated here from Scotland in 1851. They had been promised that Texas was a land where things grew easily. Where life would be easy. Abundance. You know, the typical stuff you would say in order to get people to move half way around the world. My great, great, great grandmother, Isabella Wood, wrote a letter back to Scotland and told a different tale. A familiar story to most Texans…It hadn’t rained in the three months they had been here and they hadn’t seen a vegetable either. You can read that letter here.
In spite of the hardships (they arrived in Texas in May and by June had buried three of their children), they made a life here. I am sure that there was a steep learning curve which included knowing where to find food and deciding what was edible. Enter the Mustang grape and (hopefully) Mustang grape jelly.
The Famous Mustang Grapes
Mustang grapes are everywhere and, in fairness, they don’t just grow in Texas. They seem to grow on every fence line and they cover trees like kudzu. However, if you have ever pulled one off of the vine and attempted to eat it, you would discover that they are bitter and unpleasant. But certainly, since they grow wild here on the Homestead, Isabella would have seen them and would have, I hope, figured a way to use them. Did she make Mustang wine with them? Maybe. Did she make Mustang grape jelly? Again, maybe. I certainly hope so. This website tells more about the Mustang grape and other information about foraging in Texas. Maybe…just maybe.
The huge, ancient vine in our front yard is loaded with grapes but it grows up into the trees and makes harvesting almost impossible. Sure enough, a quick search around the front yard proved that these grapes really do grow everywhere. Jerry and I got busy and harvested about forty pounds of grapes with the plan of making jelly.
Mustang Grape Juice
Jelly, unlike jam, is made with juice. Jerry and I washed and removed the stems and leaves. We removed all the spiders and ants also. Once prepped, I cooked the grapes down for 20 minutes and strained through a fairly small wire mesh strainer. We filled Mason jars with the juice and stored the jars in the refrigerator until I was ready to make the jelly the next day. In all, I made four batches of jelly which meant that I made 8 batches of juice this first day. I thought that was enough time over a hot stove.
You would have thought that I was slaughtering some sort of exotic unicorn or something. The juice was a beautiful fuchsia and it was everywhere. It didn’t take long to also realize that the juice is very acidic and that we needed to wear gloves to work with the grapes. My hands were stinging past my wrists.
Mustang Grape Jelly
Making the jelly was a straight forward process. 4 3/4 cups of grape juice (strained through an even smaller wire mesh), 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (also strained), a pat of butter, and one box of pectin. Bring to a rolling boil and add 7 cups of sugar all at once. You need to measure this out into a bowl before you begin. Stir sugar in well. Return to a rolling boil and boil for one minute. Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized jars. Clean the rims and place lids and rings on the jars.
Place the jars in a water bath and boil for 10 minutes. Be sure that the jars have 2 inches of water over them. Remove from water and let cool. If all is well, you will be rewarded with delightful little “pops!” when the jars seal. If they don’t seal, place in refrigerator and use immediately. The jars above are cooling and still have the raised lids. They eventually all sealed. In all, each batch made 9 jars of jelly. That means that for a few hours of work, I got to learn something new, use a wild fruit native to this area, and provide delicious jelly for my family.
I really hope that Isabella figured this out as well.