When Tyler and I felled a small sapling to make room in our orchard for a pear tree, we discovered a whole mess of wild grapes tangled in its branches. I was thrilled about the unexpected bounty and felt no remorse about removing them. Grape vines like this are invasive on our land and many a tree has been suffocated by their snaking tendrils.
So, we took a break from orchard-prep to make the most of this wild food discovery. While I began tugging off bunches, Tyler grabbed a five gallon bucket to deposit them in. By the time we'd picked the vines clean, the bucket was overflowing! The tiny blue globes we collected were sweet, tart, and perfectly ripe.
When I carved out an afternoon to take on the project of processing the fruit, I worked at it in stages: first, I washed and separated them from their stems. Then, I covered the grapes with an inch or so of water, and set them on the stove.
They cooked down into a glorious purple mess which I ran through a food mill (borrowed from our dear neighbor, Becky) to separate the skins, seeds, and errant bits of stem. Out of time for the day, I refrigerated the messy result of my labors and vowed to come back to it in the morning.
When I took out the juice for processing the next day, I noticed that it was viscous—too pulpy to make a beautifully clear jelly. So, I strained it through a cloth, and when I was done, I was left with about seven cups of pristine juice, and four cups of pulp.
With the clear grape juice, I made jelly two ways. The first was sweetened with sugar to make a gently set, quivering jelly. The second I made with honey and Pomona's Pectin, which made a more gelatinous spread. To both batches, I added tiny pinches of ground cloves and Chinese Five Spice, for a teensy bit of depth and richness.
To the remaining pulp, I added about a third of a cup of local honey and cooked it for awhile on the stove, then spread it on a parchment paper-lined tray. This I baked at my oven's lowest temperature all night, and into the next day. What resulted was the purplest of purple homemade fruit leather (aka fruit roll-ups) I've ever seen.
I'd never made anything like this before—they turned out just like the store-bought kind, only better!
Seeing my finished wild grape products made me smile with sheer delight. Not only were they tasty, but they were triumphs in terms of what they represented to me: these foods were distillations of home, from our own plants, on our own land, picked at the peak of ripeness in this particular southern Vermont season. Talk about terroir!
In addition, I felt overjoyed that I'd had the time, energy, and mental space to take on a project like this at all. Finally, it felt as though we were moving into a phase of life where foraging and making delicious foods from the fruits of own land could be a reality. My homesteading reality was finally on par with my homesteading dreams HOORAY!