Friday, February 4, 2011

Tip of the Week: How to Can Grape Juice Part 2

In this post I'll show my method for making LOTS of grape juice quickly. See my first post here for an introduction to the whole thing. There will be a 3rd post as well with ideas on how you can use every last scrap of the grapes.

So, I take a huge pile of grapes like so:

Then I stem them and sort out any green ones and icky shriveled ones like so:
See the first post for reasons to stem or not to stem them (because you don't have to do it.) Next I make sure my sink is really clean and then wash the grapes in it and put them in the colander basket of my steam juicer.
Oh, and if you don't want your hands to look like this...
then you might want to wear some gloves! I don't really care and gloves get in my way, but I thought I'd warn you what can happen.

Now you need to get the steam juicer all ready. (Oh, and a steam juicer is just the easiest way to do grape juice if you ask me. Look here for instructions on doing it without one. It will just take FOREVER and you won't want to do a huge amount of grapes that way.) Fill the bottom pan with water, and if you'd like- toss in a few coins. Why? Because you can hear them clinking around in there when the water is boiling and when you can't hear them anymore you'll know you've run the pot dry and you better turn off the heat quickly and add some water! The first year I did juice I ran the pan dry at least 3 times and wanted to kick myself every time! 
BUT- DO NOT add two different types of coins or your pan will end up like this:
Yup, I mutilated my brand new pan! RATS! Somehow the different types of metals in a penny and a dime or nickel reacted with each other and the water and made all this stuff stick to the pan and the coins were ruined. When I tried using ONLY nickels and it worked great! This is a very handy trick because the only way to know if you are almost out of water is to lift off the other hot and heavy pans and look and then your hands are full and you can't pour more water in! Anyway, you may not need it, but this trick sure saved me from disaster several times.

So, you start heating water in the bottom pan, then add the pan that catches the juice:
And then the colander pan that you've filled with grapes:
Stick the lid on top and you're all set!
This is my set up out in my garage. I highly recommend this kind of set up if you can manage it because if you accidentally spill you aren't making a huge sticky mess of your kitchen. And believe me, I did spill....
Another reason to do it in the garage or outside is so you can keep all that heat out of your house.

Notice the cooler below holding some essentials? I've got a lighter for the burners and a large pitcher to catch the juice. The one thing I really hate about steam juicers is the clamp on the end of the tube where the juice comes out. It looks like this:
This thing is SO HARD to hold open for long periods of time! I find it's easiest to take the clamp off and let the juice run out into a pitcher. The other problem is when you are trying to hold a jar to catch the juice as it comes out- that juice is HOT and therefore the jar in your hand will get hot and difficult to hold. I'd sure hate to drop and break a jar of hot grape juice all over creation!! So, I highly recommend using a pitcher with a spout so you can just pour the juice from that into the jars. (And having a second pitcher to trade out with the one full of juice.)

My steam juicer instructions say that you don't have to process the filled jars in a water bath at all as long as you:
1- Use sterilized jars (Hot jars right out of the dishwasher are fine.)
2-Let the first cup or two of juice come out and then pour it back in over the grapes. This first bit of hot juice sterilizes the tube.
3-Fill the jar with hot juice right from the steam juicer and immediately put on a sterilized lid and band.
4-Let the jar cool and make sure it has sealed correctly.

*This is NOT the "official" way to do it according to the USDA. I think you are perfectly safe to do it providing you carefully follow each of those steps, but just know that's not "official."

I was using the huge 1/2 gallon jars (which are meant for only juice by the way) and I couldn't always fill a whole jar before I needed to start another batch of grapes steaming. Then a partial jar of juice would sit and cool and not be sterile anymore. For me it was easiest to simply fill each jar as I had the juice and then when I had enough jars ready I would process them all at once.

I used a small fine mesh strainer to pour the juice through to keep out any thick stuff that had gotten in it.

Here is what my colander pan looked like when I was done with a batch. My instruction manual says to avoid stirring the grapes if you want really clear juice. I wanted to get every last bit of good stuff out so I stirred my grapes around a bunch and was left with all these skins and seeds and some pulp. 
I did end up with some thicker stuff coming out, but my fine mesh strainer caught most of that and I saved it for other uses like fruit leather or smoothies.

Now, to process the juice in a water bath or steam canner follow THESE guidelines.  That page will also tell you the "official" way to do grape juice. They sure make it harder than it has to be! It discusses pouring the juice through a coffee filter or something similar to make the juice more clear. I'm just not that fussy! Also, it says to add sugar to taste and bring it to a boil, dissolving the sugar and then pour the juice into the jars. Just one more messy step if you ask me. I don't add sugar until I open up a jar and then I only add about 1/4 cup to a 1/2 gallon of juice that has been diluted with 1/2 gallon of water. Why ruin something as good for you as grape juice by adding a bunch of sugar?

So, here are 5- 1/2 gallon jars (that's 10 quarts at once!) in my awesome steam canner. 1/2 gallon jars are hard to use if you don't have a pot big enough for them. Pressure canners work, but most water bath canners aren't tall enough. Most people will probably just use quarts, so no biggie. Anyway, my steam canner just barely fits the jars and it works great.
So, I processed my juice for 15 minutes as the chart says I should for my altitude and size of jar. Then just take out the jars and let them cool and you have juice all ready to go!
Here's a beautiful jar of grape juice! Notice my really warped jar? I have two like this, but they still work fine so I use them. Now, when you open up a jar weeks or months later (and you haven't filtered the juice very carefully) you'll probably find crystallized bits and some "sediment" on the bottom of the jar. Just carefully pour out the juice and when you get to the gunk on the bottom just dump it down the drain. I've never had a problem doing that and it's so much easier than tediously clarifying the juice.

As I mentioned before, we dilute our juice with the same amount of water as we have juice. So, I end up with a gallon of grape juice once it's diluted! Then add sugar to taste unless you added sugar when canning it. I only add 1/4 c. of sugar for a whole gallon! You could leave it out entirely if you need to avoid it.

So, you can run batch after batch of grapes in a steam juicer the same way. You'll probably need to steam them for at least an hour per batch and dump out the gunk after each batch. Like I said, I spent a day with two steam juicers and got all my juice done.  All 70 quarts of it!
We'll be enjoying that juice for the next year or so and we hope to find more grapes again this year to make more!

I will do one more post soon discussing what to do with all that leftover grape pulp as well as how to can whole grapes and why I don't do it.


  1. Yum! I love your thorough instructions. If and when I ever do grapes, I will certainly be prepared.

  2. Hi Angie, Where did you get the steamer/juicer? I have never seen one here in the mountains of NC. I learned to can grape juice using the whole grapes, which then "work" all thru the fall moving up and down in the jars. My kids loved watching them dd this and watching the juice get darker and darker. Also, very little sediment! Don't you just LOVE canning!!!

    1. Angie is my sister. I, Holly am the one who runs this blog.
      As for where to get a steamer/juicer, you can find them easily on Amazon or other online sites. You might be able to get a used one off of ebay or Craig's list. It's possible to even find one at a fancy kitchen store or a hardware store.

      As for canning the grapes whole, I think I explain better in the 3rd post about canning grape juice why I don't do that. I prefer to can a juice concentrate and dilute with water later, rather than canning a bunch of water with a few grapes. You use fewer canning lids when you are only canning the concentrated juice and adding water when you open it up. But, you do need a steam juicer to do that, so if you don't have one/can't afford one, canning the grapes whole is the way to go!


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