Despite a fairly unpromising spring and early summer, our vines still managed to produce a pretty impressive crop of grapes this autumn. This may not seem such a big deal for those of you living in warmer climes, but in view of the fact that we live on the northern tip of Cheshire, to be able to harvest any sort of exotic fruit at all is quite an achievement.
For the past few years we've kept a few of the choicest bunches to enjoy as table grapes, and have then turned the rest into grape jelly which livens up our breakfast table throughout the depths of the English winter.
As with my marmalade recipe, I make the jelly in the microwave. For anyone who wants to have a go at making your own, this is what I do. I'm using grapes here, but the process is the same for any sort of soft fruit. The timings are based on a 700W microwave oven, and all settings are HIGH throughout. As a rough guide, each 2lb (approx 1 kilo) of fruit produces four jars of jelly.
First of all, rinse the fruit and get rid of any thick stalks, but without being too fussy about it. Weigh the fruit and put it into a preserving pan or large saucepan.
To each 2lb of fruit add one pint of water. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring and crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 10-15 minutes until it reduces to a pulp.
Put the pulp into a jelly bag and leave it suspended over a bowl to allow the juice to filter through. This normally takes 1-2 hours (or you can leave it overnight if you prefer).
Please resist the temptation to squeeze the bag to speed up the process - this will result in your jelly being cloudy. Instead, take advantage of the break to do something different. Such as read one of my novels. Click on the book covers on the right to find out more.
When the bag has stopped dripping, discard the pulp and measure the quantity of the juice which has collected in the bowl. For each pint of liquid allow 2lb of jam sugar. Please note: ORDINARY SUGAR WON'T DO. Jam sugar contains extra pectin, which means that your jelly will set with much less boiling and much less effort.
(Other brands of jam sugar are available)
Put the juice into a LARGE microwave-safe bowl. The bowl needs to be no more than one-third full when cold, because the jelly will expand quite furiously as it boils. If you have ended up with a lot of juice, you may find that you'll need to make the jelly in more than one batch.
Add the sugar, stir well, then microwave for ten minutes. Stir well, then microwave for another ten minutes. Stir again, then test the jelly by dipping a fork into it.
If the jelly clings to the space between the prongs, it is ready. If not, microwave again for another two minutes then test again. Rinse and repeat as necessary. Don't be deceived by the fact that at this stage the stuff will still look very runny - trust me, it will set as it cools. Do not overboil the jelly or it will set like concrete, and you won't be able to do anything with it except possibly give it to someone you don't like very much.
Put the jelly into clean jars and label them. Throw the bowl and all the other odds and ends into the dishwasher, make yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up, and finish reading my novel.
Oh - and don't forget to spread the stuff on your toast in the morning.