The Catawba Grape Harvest

This year’s drought wreaked havoc on our usually very reliable Concord grapes:


As you can see, they shriveled and died on the vine. At least the birds are enjoying a feast of raisins.

On the bright side, our Catawba vines had never given us more than just a few bunches in the past, but they seem to love the dry weather:

There are still some green ones in the mix, but with temperatures cooling and daylight waning, we picked them at the bend in the road between September and October.

After we cut the ripe bunches and left them available for eat out of hand for a week, I decided we needed to process them. The fruit fly situation gets out of hand quickly if you let it, and these are seeded grapes, so they’re not that fun to eat anyway. 

So I pulled every last one off of their stems and made Catawba grape jelly. There was just shy of three pounds when that project was complete, so I raided the fridge for some Himrod grapes from earlier in the season to add to the mix. 

The jam making process was the same as what we did when we made Concord grape jam a couple years ago, but I changed the recipe a bit. This time I used 3 pounds of grapes, 2 cups of sugar, the juice of half a lemon, and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

When you cook all that down, the skins of the grapes have enough natural pectin and the fruit is sweet enough that you just need a bit of acid to get it to gel — that’s the lemon and balsamic. In the past we’ve used all lemon, and the jams turn out very bright and acidic, but I like the way the balsamic adds a depth of flavor without too much citrusy zing. 

Anyway, after the initial 20 minutes of cooking down and running this through the food mill (no easy feat with all those seeds), this was already really close to set, and only required about five more minutes of boiling to get it to gel. 

Look how pretty it is on the test plate:

Because Catawba grapes are really more red than purple, the jam is is really beautiful color. Though it looks pink when it’s spread out thin over glass, the end result is really more of a mauve jam:

It tastes good, too! It’s definitely more complex than the full-powered grape flavor of the Concord jam: kind of floral, and the balsamic give it a hint of herbiness that’s really nice. I’m not sure how great it will be with peanut butter, but the kids can report back about that later. It’s definitely great for toast and probably cookies or other baking projects, though.


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