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Muscadines…or is it Mustang Grapes…..Both are a Southern Thing

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A note about the delay posting this addition. I am confident that the Mustang grape vs. the Muscadine confusion has been resolved. I have been picking Mustang grapes. The Foraging Texas website has definitive descriptions. So, read on…….

It seems that the longer that I am living in Texas, the more I learn about the “life in the background”. Even though I am living at the edge of a huge city. Houston proper is home to about 2.3 million people, while the Metropolitan Statistical Area is nearly 6.5 million people. Crazy, I was just commenting to to my “Goo” friend John the other day that I never pictured myself living in a big city! Strange as it may seem, in the midst of this 6.5 million people, there is a good sized chunk of southern rural life.

Out for a bike ride the other day in my rural/urban setting of Kingwood, I spot purple spots on the bike path. I stop and look up……Hmmmmm, looks like Muscadine wild grapes. (not!!!!! see lead in note)

Vitis mustangensis, commonly known as the mustang grape, is a species of grape that is native to the southern United States

This woody species produces small clusters of hard green fruit that ripen into soft 34-inch (2 cm) dark purple berries in August–September.

They have a thick outer layer of flesh and on average contain four seeds. This variety of grape is recognized by the white velvet-like underside of the leaves, and often covers small trees, shrubs, fences and other objects that it grows near.[3]

At the beginning of the article I thought I was picking muscadines…so I wrote….

“Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is a member of the grape family. It is native to much of North America and grows wild in roadsides and forests.

It has been extensively cultivated since the 16th century. Its natural range is recognized in the following states of the US: Alabama, Arkansas, the Carolinas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. They are well adapted to their native warm and humid climate; they need fewer chilling hours than better known varieties and they thrive on summer heat.”

I rode home and grabbed my bucket, put it into the saddle bagss on my bicycle and headed out. FYI, be prepared to drip sweat when picking Muscadines (and Mustang grapes)…..even early in the morning…80 degrees F and north of 70% humidity…..perfect for these grapes.

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I am I little taller than the average guy. I saw purple spots on the bike path on the West Lake Houston bridge and looked up. Within my grasp was a vine….a good firm pull and it was down at picking height.

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Lots of big and very ripe Muscadine (Mustang) grapes. I returned home with almost 8 pounds and – completely sweat drenched….90+ degrees and very humid.

It was obvious that the bridge had been picked pretty hard. I had spotted some vines nearby, the spot is my secret, and rode the over to investigate more closely.

 

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I have competition. In the shadow of the big city and adjacent to a busy 4 lane highway is a patch of grapes tempting the local deer. Look closely at the tracks in the sand. I probably picked 4 pounds from this location where the deer were browsing.

Several days prior to this adventure in picking/foraging, I picked about 3 gallons of ripe Muscadines (Mustang grapes) and processed them into juice for the first of several batches of jelly. I first washed then froze the grapes to burst the skins. I put them into a deep pot and covered them with water, just barely covering them. Cranked up the stove and mashed the heck out of them as they boiled. I boiled them for about 25 minutes while mashing and stirring.

You get the idea….a bit of work but well worth it. next, gotta strain off the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth.

The result of my efforts…..I filled a 1/2 gallon jar and about 1/2 quart of a dark rich Juice.

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A good start on the jelly making. Just a note; if you want clear jelly, do not squeeze the pulp, let mother nature and gravity do the work.

Muscadine Jelly – FYI….it was Mustang grapes so the final product more like “tart sweet”.

4 cups of juice

3 cups of sugar

1 package of Sure Jell premium (yellow box) pectin

1 tsp butter to reduce foam

Add pectin to juice and stir well. Bring the mixture up to a full rolling boil then add sugar all at once. Stir vigorously to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil again and count of 60 seconds at full boil. Skim foam and fill your hot sterilized jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and let he jars sit undisturbed for a couple of days so the jelly sets up properly. Should make 5 half pints plus a little more.

Mustang Grape Jelly 

Same process to obtain juice.

5 cup of juice

1 pkg Sure Jell Premium (yellow box) mixed with juice.

Bring to a full boil and add 7 cups of sugar…that’s right, 7 cups.

Bring to a full boil for 3-5 minutes, the two batches I made took the full 5 minutes to get to the proper jelling point. Test drops on a cold plate until satisfied if it is ready….a bit subjective but it works. Skim the foam, fill sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let sit undisturbed for a couple of days…..I think I read that somewhere else…..Hmmmm.

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One of several gift jars I made with the batch. I will make another two batches later this week. Love the beautiful color.

For the total “Southern” experience, I am in the process of making Muscadine (Mustang grape) wine with the 8 pounds I picked yesterday. I had a great visit with the owner of the The Grain Cellar down in Humble, TX. besides being a home brewer, he is a knowledgeable wine maker and a knowledgeable resource on yeasts. He loves to share his knowledge with customers….as well as sample of his wine making as well as his beer brewing….I will attempt to make about 4 gallons of wine!!!!!

Now….from this evening….Preston at he Grain Cellar insisted that I did not pick Muscadines so he started me on the research journey….. Preston, you were correct. The definitive plant description is found by examining the leaves. Mustang grapes have a “white” lighter color on the underside of the leaves. Muscadines are green, top and bottom. Now I know.

The Mustang Grape “must” in the wine making bucket has a great aroma. I am looking forward to finishing the process. I will post the wine making adventure later.

Three batches of jelly are in the jars, the last two made properly…heh, heh. Not sure if I will go out and sweat again to pick any more….and the season for the Mustang grapes is beginning to close….to hot! and too little rain!

 

TTFN

Bishop

 

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Jams, Jellies and Jars

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I just pick up an issue of “Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications” titled

Canning

preserving+freezing+drying.

I was in awe of how my limited jam and jelly efforts are/were compared to the world opened up in this issue.

Canning Issue

Canning Issue

Let’s start with the jellies

  • Blood Orange-Vanilla Bean
  • Habanero-Mint
  • Apricot-Rosemary
  • Flower Petal – I made Rose petal jelly – pretty but lacked flavor, search edible flowers for potential petals
  • Ruby-Red Grapefruit
  • Jasmine Tea
  • Grape Juice – not unique
  • Rose Wine Jelly with Pink Peppercorns
  • Balsamic Vinegar-Ruby Port

I am not including recipes – US folks can probably find this issue, if you can’t send me a request and I will accommodate y’all.

Jams were next and I saw some very mouth watering combinations.

  • Cinnamon-Peach
  • Sweet-Basil Peach
  • Chipotle-Peach
  • Bourbon-Peach
  • Caramel Apple
  • Sweet Cherry
  • Peach
  • Cinnamon-Spiced Triple-Berry
  • Gooseberry-Mango
  • Nectarine Mango
  • Honey-and-Thyme Blackberry
  • Tomato-Basil
  • Dried Apricot-Fig Jam with Anise
  • Strawberry Margarita & yes it includes a 1/2 cup of Tequila and a 1/4 cup of Triple Sec
  • Cantaloupe Jam with Vanilla

I have a vision of returning to Houston and creating some amazing Jellies and Jams. I am on a garden break and my son’s good friend and former teammate is keeping the greenery alive and hopefully enjoying some of the bounty…..the long extended heat wave in our area has slowed a lot of my harvest. Old faithful cucumbers should overwhelm him….as long as he keeps them irrigated!

My return at the end of July may include a hunt for some Fredericksburg Peaches!

TTFN

Bishop

Pomegranate Jelly – The Hard Way

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One of my favorite jellies is Pomegranate and more specifically that made by my Aunt Josie. Her husband, my Dad’s brother, Uncle Jim, worked for Western Water Works in Taft, CA. The equipment yards were fenced and ringed with pomegranate trees. They didn’t grow very tall but were loaded with juicy fruit every fall. The word pomegranate is an apt description – “seeded apple” – and by golly, tons of seeds. After my efforts to make pomegranate jelly the hard way I have a lot more respect for the effort and love my Aunt put into making that wonderful jelly she handed out around Christmas each year.

To address my wife’s concern about costs – $ 20.00 for pomegranates, $ 3.00 for the Sure – Jell low sugar pectin, 5 cups of sugar about $ 4.00, lemon juice less than a dollar. About $ 28.00 for a batch. Let’s not consider my labor costs, it is a labor of love, just like my love for my wife …… priceless! Commercial pomegranate Jelly – somewhere between $ 7.00 to $ 13.00 per jar ~ 8 ounces. My jelly is in that cost range, only better because I made it!!!!!

I was smart enough to use my outdoor potting bench and sink set-up to extract the seeds. It is a messy mess. As I worked through the extraction process I actually became more proficient in the process. The methods I found on the internet search did not help much at all. See the process below.

 

Pomegranate cut in half.

The next step is to break it apart. If done well, and that is a bit of a learning experience, it makes the removal of the kernels easy. If not it is a B……….!

Broken open and the sweet kernels on display in a bowl sloooooowly becoming full.

The sink comes in handy to rinse my hands off and to rinse the kernels. The white membrane like material floats and the kernels sink making it relatively easy to separate the good stuff from the chaff.

The bowl with kernels on the bottom and the chaff floating on top of the water. Makes it easy to segregate the good stuff from the trash.

The trash….oh my, it is quite a bit, but it is all destined for the compost bin. Hopefully it breaks down fairly quick!

About halfway through the effort! Lots of trash.

Next is the extraction of the juice. I dumped the seeds into a pot, added a little water and heated it all to the boiling point. I used a potato masher and then ran the mix through my food mill. The juice is a bit murky after sieving and filtering. I have it siting in the fridge to clarify a bit before making the jelly some time today. More on that later. Can’t hardly wait to sample the results…..To my cousin Drew….I will send you a jar!

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

Jamming and Jelling – no not like Dr. Scholl’s – that would be Gelling

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I have been catching up on the canning – two batches of my home grown blackberries, one batch of my strawberries and now a little treat.

I made a batch of Shiraz Rosemary jelly. What a wonderful pairing of flavors. I can't wait to try it over cream cheese as a dip and maybe on some lamb as a glaze while grilling. The last batch is a Port jelly with orange, cloves and cinnamon sticks blended, soaked and strained through cheese cloth to help keep the jelly clear and flavorful.

Hmmmm,. how about some Chardonnay Jelly with a little orange zest and a dash of cloves. Send me a suggestion…. I love to experiment. The best suggestion gets a jar and a surprise treat…. help me out.

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