Mustang grape jelly was our first attempt at canning, jelly, or wild foraging. And success couldn’t taste sweeter. About a month ago I was out mowing the back pasture and noticed that all the vines that I had seen growing on the trees and fence lines since we moved to our property 4 years ago had grape-like clusters on them. I had never noticed them before because while we were renting the property we did not rent the pasture so we had little reason to venture through the overgrown back pasture. But when I noticed these grape-like clusters I was so intrigued that I stopped mowing and checked them out. We love grapes so I figured it was worth finding out if they were in fact grapes and if they were edible. It turns out that the answer to both is yes. After much research (because the thought of misidentifying a wild forage plant was not a pleasant thought) I found out that what we have growing all over our property is a type of wild grape known as the mustang grape.
The mustang grape is a grapevine that typically grows along fence lines and in trees and on electric poles. It is found throughout eastern Texas, western Louisiana, south western Arkansas, and southeastern Oklahoma. It prefers loose soil, particularly sandy soil or loam, with a neutral to alkaline pH. It is a climbing vine and can grow as high as 40 feet. The main trunk at ground level can be several inches in diameter. Its’ leaves are green on top with a fuzzy grey-ish to white-ish color on the bottom. It has a high heat tolerance in addition to being drought tolerant. The grape clusters can range from 3-4 grapes up to 11-12 grapes (although most of ours were 3-6 grapes).
The grapes are highly acidic and if eaten raw or handled without gloves it can cause unpleasant burns to the lips, mouth, and skin (although I would say that sensitivity is dependent on the person. I have eaten several of them raw and only had a slightly uncomfortable sting to my throat and no other adverse reactions. I did not eat the skins though and they are the most acidic part of the fruit). This is why they are better as a jelly, jam, or wine (although I do not make wine since I don’t enjoy the taste of wine) as they are sweetened with sugar and it takes away some of the tartness and reduces the acidity.
First let me say that I was a horrible blogger, got busy making the mustang grape jelly, and failed to take photos of the process. To make the jelly we went out as a family and gathered about 3 gallons worth of grapes. We brought them in and went through them making sure to remove the stems and any other trash attached or stuck to the grapes. As a side note, when pulling the stems the inside of the grape will squish out easily so it took a second to figure out how to grasp the grape with our fingers restricting the insides from pulling out as we pulled the stem. Not that it is vital so don’t worry too much about those that do squish out. Just through the grape and skin in together. As we pulled the stems we through the grapes into a colander and as it got full we would rinse them well and set them aside in a stock pot for boiling. Because we had so many grapes we would fill a stock pot and start it boiling while we prepared the next one. We ended up with 3 large stock pots full to process. While the grapes boiled we would squish and mash them with a hand potato masher to help squeeze as much juice and pulp out of them as we could. We boiled the grapes until the water was a nice, deep purple and the grapes were very well squished.
We strained the juice mixture in several stages starting with a colander. We strained into some large, clean popcorn buckets because they were the largest buckets we had and worked perfectly since the grapes were finishing up in batches rather than one large batch. We then strained them through a jelly strainer, and finally through a clean pair of panty hose.
At this point we sat the juice aside and set up for water bath canning following normal water bath canning procedures. Once the water bath was ready, we started the first batch of jelly. We followed the instructions for grape jelly that came on an insert in the pectin box that we bought at the store. The recipe called for something like 5-1/4 cups of sugar, 2 or 2-1/2 cups of juice, and one box of pectin. If you are worried about the sugar content there is low-sugar pectin available but if you use regular pectin and reduce the sugar content the jelly will likely not set correctly. Once we processed the jelly in the water bath we removed the bands and set the jars aside to cool for 24 hours and then checked the seals. All of the jars sealed perfectly so we stored them in a cool, dark place. We had enough juice from our harvest to make 36 jars of jelly and it is amazing! I hope I never have to buy grape jelly from the store again. If you haven’t had mustang grape jelly then you have missed out in life my friends. Have a great day and God bless!
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