Late September and early October is Concord Grape season in California’s central valley. Every time I walk under our grape arbor in this season, just the smell of those ripe grapes conjures up memories of childhood – wolfing down a PB & J, slurping a rapidly melting frozen grape juice bar (mom was way more into those than neon popsicles), or greedily munching on a grape flavored jelly bean, lifesaver, or any of those turn-your-mouth-purple candies that we loved. We used to make Grape juice from Welch’s frozen concentrate; sometimes the lid didn’t come off so easily and splat there went a purple goopy mess all over our shirts.
If you have never had fresh, homemade grape juice, I assure you, you are missing out; it’s nothing like anything you can buy in a store. It’s more like nectar than store bought juice, thick and smooth. We like to dilute ours a bit with sparkling water. Over the years we’ve learned that our homemade grape juice doesn’t really freeze well; it just doesn’t taste nearly as special upon defrosting. So when it’s in season, we drink it up.
This recipe uses Concord grapes which, according to my friends in Concord, Mass, still grow wild around those parts. I’m pretty sure you could use this grape juice recipe with any kind of sweet grape you like.
- A colander for rinsing the grapes
- 1 large, 12-quart pot
- 1 large 6 or 8-quart pot
- A very large fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth
1. Pick the grapes. Get a large basket, wear long sleaves and a hat, bring clippers, and fill up the basket with grape bunches. Keep in mind that a pound of grapes will yield a little less than a cup of juice.
2. Wash and de-stem the grapes. Put grapes in a basin filled with water. Then rinse the individual grapes, picking them away from the stem, collecting the grapes in a large bowl, and discarding the green unripe and old shriveled grapes.
3. Mash the grapes. With a potato masher, mash away at the grapes so the juice begins to flow. If you have picked a lot of grapes, you may need to work in batches. We have found it easiest to mash about 4 lbs of grapes at a time.
4. Cook the grapes. Put the mashed grapes into a large stockpot. Slowly heat the grapes and juice to a simmer on medium heat and then simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally so that the grapes don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Halfway through cooking mash some more, breaking up as many of the remaining grapes as possible.
5. Prepare sieve or cheesecloth. Get another large pot, place a large fine mesh sieve over it. Alternatively you can cover it with two layers of cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band. Make sure pot is sitting on a plate to catch any juice that may run over.
6. Strain grape mixture. Ladle grape mixture over sieve or cheesecloth to strain. Let sit for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator to strain completely.
7. Finishing. Remove sieve or cheesecloth.* Note that sediment will have formed on the bottom of the container. Rinse out the sieve or cheesecloth and strain the juice again, to filter out some of the sediment. Pour or ladle juice into containers. Enjoy your juice!
* Note that the grape mash can be composted.