In my first summer at Vastrap I was thrilled to find we had an old Catawba grape-vine in the backyard. It made me think of my Nana, Sheila Fassler who had a large trellis covered in Catawba grapes at her home in Emmarentia in Johannesburg. I have such fond childhood memories of these grapes – funny the things that make an impression on a child. They made a huge mess on her front veranda, but I loved their distinct sweet, but slightly tart taste. We used to squish the flesh out of the black skins and discard them as we ate. Most of all, I loved the jelly that she made from the grape juice. It was such a treat, served with warm home-made custard!
I checked on the grapes this weekend and to my delight there were a few ripe bunches. On the spur of the moment I decided it was time to make jelly. There are only one or two opportunities to do this in a year and they absolutely can’t be missed!
Many people don’t know these grapes, because they are quite old-fashioned, but one often finds them growing over trellises in old houses. They are small, black grapes with a very distinct flavour. They aren’t used to make wine and they don’t make great table grapes because they have lots of pips and the skins are quite tough. Hence the idea of jelly!
If you ever happen to come across a box of these or find some growing on an old trellis in mid-summer I highly recommend you try this for a treat.
Sheila Fassler’s Catawba Grape Jelly
1 x small colander full of fresh Catawba grapes
3/4 cup sugar
10-15g Gelatine powder
Remove the grapes from their stalks and rinse clean. Discard the green ones. Place in a pot with the sugar. Slowly bring to the boil and leave to stew for a few minutes stirring occasionally to release the juices.
Pour the stewed grapes into a colander balanced over a bowl to catch the juice. Be patient while the juice drains off. Don’t squeeze the grapes too much because the pips can be bitter! Discard the grape skins and pips and strain the liquid through a fine sieve. At this point you can taste the juice to see if more sugar is needed. It should be tart, but not unpleasantly so. If the flavour is too strong you can dilute with a bit of water, but I like it as is.
The amount of grapes shown in the photo above yielded 700 ml of juice, but obviously it will vary depending on how many grapes you use and how ripe they are. Measure the quantity of juice you have and then follow the instructions on the gelatine box to make the jelly. You will need to split the mixture and dissolve the gelatine in some hot juice before adding the rest of the juice that has been cooled.
Pour into a large mould or individual moulds and refrigerate for a few hours. The jelly is a gorgeous deep purple colour and quite rich so you only need a small serving per person. Use a glass bowl to show off the colour to full effect. I got about 6 servings out of the 700 ml, but got distracted and forgot to take photos of the final product!
Serve with warm home-made custard or vanilla ice cream. Heart shaped moulds are great for a seasonal Valentine’s day treat!