Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grape, I mean Great, Adventures!

On Saturday morning last weekend, Drew, the kids and I set out on a bicycle adventure.  We rode to our town's downtown to the "Market Days." 

At market days, about to head to the restaurant to grab a bite for lunch.

It was about a 5.3 mile bike ride to this location downtown.   All along the way on the tree covered trail, the friendly folks we passed said, "good morning!" to us!  Everyone was smiling. The weather was fabulous.  We saw tons of beautiful birds and critters.  We even passed cows, horses and donkeys.  It was a perfect day!  I just love our town!  We then ventured a little further on main street to a restaurant we have wanted to try for a very long time.  The "Scarlet Rabbit," has an "Alice in Wonderland" theme for the decor.  It is such a fun place.  And, the food was ridiculously good!  We had a perfect bite for lunch and then we headed back home.

One of the restaurant employees saw me taking photos of the decor and asked if we wanted a family photo. (Terrible angle for a photo with my leg hiked up like that---not sure what I was thinking--makes my leg look much larger than it is, ha!   At least I am in a photo though--usually I am the one behind the camera.)
On our way back home along the trail, I noticed what looked like a bunch of grapes on the ground.  Then, I located a huge vine hanging over that area.  I took a photo of the vines and what I thought were grapes.  Then, we we got home, I posted the picture on a gardening group I am part of--they confirmed my suspicion.  These were mustang grapes and they were abundant. 

Mustang grapes are in their prime season right now--they grow really well in central Texas and can be found mainly along the edges of woods.  You can't really just eat them off the vine--they are pretty bitter, and they can make your hands itch.  But, apparently they make excellent jelly and wine.  So, we decided to go back later that afternoon and gather some with the proper tools--we did a little "foraging".  My plan was to make jelly and attempt my first ever "canning" experience.

This is Abbey's "I am ready to get some grapes" stance apparently.
You can see Drew used gloves and brought some clippers.

After a while in the sun, the kids got a little tired of standing and holding bags.  But, I believe it made them appreciate the process of getting those grapes and other fruits to the grocery store.

Drew walked with the kids to the playground nearby while I finished up collecting grapes.  I wanted to make sure I had plenty to make some jelly with. 

When we got home and I began removing each grape from the stem, discarding the imperfect ones, I realized we had more than enough.  The process to remove the grapes from the vines and then to wash them took a really long time.  All the while, the kids were asking me when it would be ready.  So again, it really helped not only them but also me appreciate the process that goes behind making that grape jelly.  Because the grapes are pretty tart, I noticed most of the recipes required a significant amount of sugar.  We don't typically buy any products that have sugar added to them, as I am a avid ingredient label reader.  Before anything comes into our home or into/onto our bodies, I read the ingredient list to make sure the product has ingredients I don't mind myself or my family consuming.  Since I was planning on making a lot of this jelly and we would be eating it every day, I wanted to make sure it wasn't full of sugar.  We have come so far on eliminating sugar from our daily consumption I didn't want to go back steps.  So, I finally came across a recipe (click here for a recipe for Dyanne's low sugar mustang jelly) that called for low-sugar or no-sugar pectin, which meant I could use significantly less sugar.  Also, I used coconut sugar instead of other more processed and higher glycemic index sugars.  I watched tons of videos and read many websites on the the topic of canning as well.  I was so concerned that after spending all this time collecting these grapes, locating the special pectin and spending the time removing the grapes from the vines and thoroughly cleaning them, I wanted to make sure the jelly turned out right and was canned properly. 

Here, the grapes are getting a good, thorough bath in vinegar and water.
The finished product!
I am happy to report that my first canning experience was a success!  I heard each of the lids pop, which means they were secured.  We can store this jelly in our pantry for up to a year!    Next time, I will use much smaller jars--once opened, the jelly lasts for 3 weeks in the fridge.  Using smaller jars would have been nicer, and it would be easier to share the jelly with more people.  But, through our mistakes we learn for next time.  That is what I always tell the kids.  Now, I have the confidence to do more canning--like tomatoes, pickles, the possibilities are endless!  And the only canning supplies I purchased were the jars.  I always thought you had to purchase all sorts of "supplies", but I researched how to do it with things most people already have in their kitchen.  Of course, if I end up canning more frequently, I may eventually purchase some of those helpful supplies.  Anyway, that is the story of our little Saturday "Grape Adventure."  Oh--I almost forgot--you may be wondering how the jelly tastes.  It is yummy!

And I have to add one more note to this post.  I am so proud of our little guy, Luke.  He rode over 12 miles on our bike ride on his bike, which has no gears to change.  Drew and I changed our gears several times to trek over very steep hills, but Luke had no such opportunity to change his.    He did an amazing job--and he is only 5 years old.  I don't think I ever took a 12 mile bike ride when I was his age.  He didn't even complain once.  I love our little guy so much!

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