Dumpster Dreams Low-Sugar Grape Jelly

A couple of weeks ago, Angie and I were out for a walk around the perimeter of the two shopping centers next door. We often take this 2.2 mile route when want to get a little fresh air but don’t feel like driving to the park. Though we usually put dumpster diving on hold for the summer (hot dumpsters stink and food decomposes way too fast for our liking), it was a cool morning so we decided just to take a peek in our favorite bin as we passed by. Guess what we found! Grapes!

Not just any grapes and not just a handful of half-squishy ones like we usually find either. These were premium non-GMO specialty grapes – Candy Dreams grapes to be exact. These small, deliciously sweet grapes taste like a plum married a blackberry and had a baby the size of a marble. The first thing my niece said when she tasted them was that they would make an excellent wine. The first thing our great niece said was, “more, please!” These little bites of fruit candy cost $2.99 a pound inside the store and we got them for free.

There were cartons and cartons of them in the dumpster. We could have gotten them all but it’s hard to carry that many grapes, without a bag, when you’re walking; so we settled for a full cardboard tray and two containers. We figured by the time we cleaned them up, we’d have maybe a few pounds of edible grapes. Boy were we wrong!

We started with 14 one-pound cartons. When we finished removing the stems and bad grapes, we still had 14 pounds of grapes. Less than 1/4 cup of the grapes were bad. They were all in near perfect condition, so I have no idea why they got tossed. (Actually, 99% of the time I have no idea why this stuff gets tossed, which is why we try to rescue what we can.)

What does one do with 14 pounds of grapes that taste like candy? Eat them, of course. And make jelly.

We’ve been dying to try our hand at jelly-making but strawberry season was slim this year and our blackberries are still too young to produce enough to make more than just a cobbler. With 14 pounds of free grapes, we had no excuse not to try. So we did.

I read a lot of recipes online but couldn’t find one that I liked so Angie and I made up our own. We started with 8 pounds of grapes. Instead of boiling and crushing them, we used our Nutri Ninja to blend one pound at a time into juice. We strained the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove the skins. In total, we had 12 cups of grape juice. Most recipes I found said that it’s best not to make that much jelly at one time, so I divided the juice into three batches.

First I measured out 4 cups of juice into a pot, added 1 1/4 cups of filtered water, and 1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice. We used both -2 batches have lemon, 1 has lime. I brought that to a boil while Angie sterilized 2 pints and 1 half-pint jar.

I let the juice boil for 10 minutes before I added 1/4 cup of organic cane sugar premixed with a box of Sure-Jell for low/no sugar recipes (this is the pink box). I brought the mixture back to a boil, then added 2 cups of organic cane sugar*. Once I got it back to a rolling boil again, I cooked it for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Once I took it off the heat, Angie ladled it into the hot jars and we processed them in the water bath canner for 10 minutes. It takes about 24 hours for them to fully set.

*Note – most jelly recipes call for copious amounts of sugar. These grapes are sweet enough that a smaller amount will work just as well, with the low/no sugar Sure-Jell. You can also use stevia, honey, or maple syrup. One of our batches is a mix of 1 3/4 cups sugar and 1/3 cup maple syrup. 

From 8 pounds of grapes, we made 6 full pints and 3 half-pints of what we’re calling Dumpster Dreams Grape Jelly. It turned out to be a beautiful shade of purple, somewhere between wine and mulberry, with a super spreadable consistency. How did it taste? Delicious! We opened one of jars made with lime juice and the maple syrup/sugar mix for lunch today and made the best PBJ I’ve had all week!

We’re pretty happy with the results and even happier not to have to buy jelly for a while. This will save us a nice chunk of change since we eat PBJs like they are going out of style and usually buy our jellies from the Farmer’s Market at a cost of $5-$6 a jar.

Do you have a favorite jelly recipe?

Overwhelmed with Food [Waste]

At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing…

I’m sure you know how that statement is going to end. Often in life we endeavor to do something we think is good or right, only to have it end up backfiring on us. That’s what happened to me this week with food.

My uncle and his kids are in town. Still bored, in case you were wondering – even though they went to the Grand Ole Opry and the Wilson County Fair. But before I fall down that rabbit hole, let me get back to the subject at hand – food.

As my relatives were coming into town on Thursday, they stopped at a BBQ restaurant to pick up a family meal to bring over for lunch. The meal consisted of a whole chicken, several sides, and bread. When I arrived that afternoon, my mom had packed up the remnants of the meal for me to take home. She knows how I feel about food waste and had at some point told my uncle if there was anything they weren’t going to eat, save it for me.

Now, as a general rule, we don’t eat meat. On occasion, we make an exception, when not doing so would hurt someone’s feelings (particularly my mom, who has a very hard time standing at the stove and every effort she makes to cook, is done with love) or when the meat is raised by someone we know. However, I thought – no harm in taking this leftover chicken. I can make a pot pie and freeze it for the next time our niece comes over. So, I put the chicken in the fridge to deal with later.

The next day, I came home with half of a leftover pizza – with meat and enough cheese to cover 10 of our homemade pizzas!

The following day, a handful of pizza rolls and chicken tenders, a spoonful of mac ‘n cheese, 2 sausage patties, 3 stale donuts, a cup of fresh corn and ¾ of a canary melon.

And yesterday, a seriously half-eaten ham sandwich, slathering in mayo. What on Earth am I supposed to do with that?

For a while, our refrigerator looked like a dumpster. I wish I’d had the forethought to take a picture, but I was too busy agonizing over what to do with all the food.

One the one hand – I didn’t want to waste it. There’s already enough food in our landfills creating ozone-depleting gases and I certainly don’t want to add to it. On the other hand, if I were to eat this stuff, I’d be sick – physically sick and sick with myself for putting things into my body that aren’t good for me. It took nearly 3 years to embrace a mostly plant-based diet and frankly, I don’t want to go back. Call me crazy – most of my family does – but I don’t want to eat processed foods or fast foods that sap me of my energy, clog my arteries, and fill my body with chemicals.

I even tried to find a happy medium. I pulled the meat off the pizza and heated some of it in the oven for lunch one day. The grease bubbled up like lava and yet I tried to choke back a few bites, but I just couldn’t do it. You may think this is silly, but I literally felt my heart sink as I tossed the pizza in the trash – along with its Styrofoam container (which could be a whole other blog post in itself).

In the end, I decided that this was not my waste. I did not buy it. I did not create it. I cannot feel responsible for it. It doesn’t matter that these folks are my family, it’s no different than a stranger handing me half of a Big Mac. I wouldn’t even hesitate before throwing that away. It’s ridiculous to think that the solution to ending food waste is to simply have someone else eat all the things that other people don’t want. Yet, that’s kind of what I was doing…

I ate the corn and since I’m not a fan of canary melons, I made a video on what I did with it (which will be posted to our YouTube channel later today). I threw away the rest of the food – even the chicken. And I have no regrets.

The way to end food waste is to take responsibility for our own actions – to not buy things that we aren’t going to eat, to practice portion control, and plan meals. We can educate others, but we can’t take responsibility for their choices.