Stalking the Wild Grape!
Stalking the Wild Grape!
When I was a boy, my grandparents had a wonderful grape arbor in their yard in Wisconsin. It produced the most delicious Concord grapes I’ve eaten before or since.
Well, when I moved to Massachusetts 15 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find wild Concord grapes growing on my land. I’ve started picking the grapes off the young vines and am studying up on how to prune, train and develop them. From a tangly vine climbing my maple trees, I’m determined to tame them and begin making juice, jelly, and wine from this wild gift.
There are dozens of species of wild grape across North America. Grape vines grow thicker and higher than most other native vines, sometimes eighty feet or more into the canopy of a hardwood forest. My kids and I like to hang from the bigger ones like Tarzan.
Wild grapes are found from the East Coast to the West, south into Mexico and north into Canada. But here in the It is east wild grapes really flourish. Best is the fox grape, considered by many to be the finest of the wild grapes. The grapes are purple and round and up to an inch in diameter. Concord, Isabella, Catawba, Niagara, Chautauqua, and Worden grapes are derived from the fox grape. In the southeast you’ll find muscadine grapes. They’re sweeter than most wild grapes and are delicious for eating out of hand.
All wild grapes are sun-loving and common along roadsides, fencerows, forest edges, watercourses, and in young, open woods. Some urban lots are full of them. Wild grapes are abundant, prolific, and useful fruits.
Here, the wild grapes ripen in late summer, and if there’s no frost into October- I’ve found wild turkeys with their craw filled with wild grapes and acorns. To gather them, simply spread a cloth underneath to catch any that drop, snip the grape clusters with a shears or snap off with your hand from the vine. Remove any rotten or malformed grapes and place them gently in your bucket or basket. Wash the grapes at home; wild grapes are more susceptible to dirt, grime and worms. Eat your grapes straight from the cluster or separate for jams, jellies or pressing into wine. Used any crushed grapes ASAP.
Juice: These wild grapes make an extremely potent juice; it is the base for jelly and wine. I use my cider press to squeeze them, but you can crush them in a pan with a potato masher or even a mug. Either way, strain the juice through cheesecloth or an old pillow case to remove any seeds, skin, twigs, etc.
Some wild grapes are high in tartrate which can be irritating. Let the juice settle for a day or two in the refrigerator and pour off the lighter juice- leave the sediment behind. Drink it straight or dilute with water or other juices.
Jelly: To make jelly, pour four cups of undiluted grape juice along with a package of Sure-Jell pectin and bring to a boil. Add five cups organic sugar stir until it returns to a rolling boil. Stir and boil a minute or two) until it starts to foam up over the top. Then remove from the heat, pour into clean mason jars, and seal.
Wine: This will make a sweet fruity wine. You won’t go blind, I promise. I made it for the first time in high school as a “science project” and wound up really plastered at the dance that weekend. But that’s another story.
Making wild grape wine is easy. Take a gallon of juice, bring almost to a boil and stir in about a third of a gallon of sugar. Let it cool to lukewarm, add some winemaker’s yeast and stir. Pour the juice into whatever container you are going to ferment it in. I recommend a gallon glass cider bottle or 5 gallon glass carboy with a water valve top. After a couple of weeks, the fermentation will slow. Taste the wine and add more sugar if you like. Let it ferment for five to eight weeks then siphon it into clean bottles and cap ‘em. There are many sources to read up on the ins and outs of making wine, but wild grapes seem to make good wine easily.
So get out there, you Gallo wannabe, and stalk those wild grapes. You can turn an overlooked resource into some serious food and fun.
For more tips and advice from Joe, visit his posts on greenopolis.com.
Greenopolis.com is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behavior on our website, through our Greenopolis recycling kiosks and with curbside recycling programs.