Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Juicy like lucy

On Sunday at church Jim and I were called to be the emergency preparedness specialists for our ward. It's interesting timing because Jim's parents, who live in the ward right next to ours, are the emergency preparedness specialists for their ward. So when Jim and Gail told us about an opportunity to make and preserve grape juice from some Concord grapes they had gleaned down in Clearview, I decided I couldn't pass it up: if I was supposed to be leading my ward's effort, I had to walk the talk.

Gail, who has been preserving grape juice for years, was gracious enough to show me the ropes yesterday and let me use her kitchen and canning equipment. I supplied my own jars, lids and rings. Contrary to what you might think, making grape juice doesn't take a lot of constant work (like, say, canning peaches) nor does it turn your feet purple. Your fingers yes, but not your feet. Rather than using the type of operation made famous by Lucille Ball, we used a steam juicer like this: The process for making grape juice is simple. The juicer sits on a burner on the stovetop, and is kept on high heat. The bottom part of the juicer is filled with water (and a little bit of vinegar if you have hard water like we do), which has to be replenished every hour as it boils down. The next section collects the juice as it is steamed out of the grapes, and has a hose connected to it from which the juice flows out and can be collected in canning jars. The top section is similar to a large colander, and is filled with grapes (or other fruit or vegetables to be juiced).

Over a period of an hour and a half, about 36 cups of grapes will condense down to about four to six quarts of juice concentrate. (To make juice for drinking, mix roughly one part water, one part finished concentrate.) Because the juice comes out boiling hot, it doesn't have to go in a water bath for the jars to seal themselves; we just wiped the rim of the jar clean after filling it, put on a sterile jar lid (boiled in hot water), and screwed a ring on tightly. As the jars cooled, they self-sealed, and voilà!—canned grape juice concentrate, with a shelf-life of about five years. Not to mention much higher quality and much less expensive than store-bought juice.

Most of the time, it was a "hurry up and wait" kind of process. Once an hour I changed the water. The grapes had to be cycled through about every hour and a half. I spent a lot of time reading, chatting with Gail, and playing with the kids while I waited for the juice to process. As the juice collected, I would fill two or three jars at a time, and then go back to doing other things.

The most demanding aspect of the whole operation was the sheer amount of time it took. I started at about ten in the morning and it took me until almost 11:30 last night to finish four fruit boxes full of grapes, which yielded just over four dozen quarts of concentrate. By the time I was done, my feet and back were killing me—and my kids wanted to, as well! Actually, Jimmy and Audrey were surprisingly patient and cooperative with the project. Fortunately, we were at Grandma's house, and she had plenty of toys and books. So Jimmy exhausted the possibilities for building amazing contraptions with Tinkertoys, and Audrey napped most of the day. I was able to stop and nurse her when she got hungry.

All the hard work was worth it: as I labeled the jars and gently placed them back in their boxes, it was immensely satisfying to see them full, gleaming garnet like giant jewels. I know that this new calling will be a blessing for me and my family.

1 comment:

aubrey said...

that last part about them gleaming like jewels reminded me of dyann and her colored jars of pears. she puts food coloring in the jars when she cans so all the pears are different colors. and emily fugal said her mom actually wrote a poem about how beautiful the finished canning jars were. job well done, katie. i'm jealous for all that juice. yummy! paul is the emergency prep person in our ward as well!