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?

48 SQ FT = A Whole Lot of Goodness

Except for a few eggplants and a handful of peppers that will be ready this week, our garden is done for the year. I can tell you all about the things we did wrong – from harvesting a watermelon too early to planting squash too close to our other plants – but I have no explanation for the many, many things that went better than expected this year. Was it our compost? Was it the watering system we rigged up? The trellises? Or was it the seeds themselves? I have no clue, but I do know that we had a super harvest this year, from just 48 square feet of scattered garden space.

Angie and her baby – an 8 pound sugar baby, to be exact!

We garden in my mom’s yard – the front yard, the side yard, and the backyard. This year, we had 5 beds, the largest measuring just 3′ x 5′, and we grew watermelons, yellow squash, eggplants, cow peas, okra, green peppers, radishes, red onions, and 3 kinds of tomatoes. The onions didn’t do so well and the watermelons got off to a rocky start, but the rest grew like gangbusters.

I wish I had started weighing our produce from the start so I could give you a better idea of the yield you can get from 48 square feet, but I didn’t. I can honestly say, we were not expecting things to go as well as they did. So the best I can give you is this –

Cherry tomato, anyone?

We ate 2 quarts of peas and put 9 pints in the freezer. We breaded a gallon of okra and put it in the freezer, along with 3 cups of cut okra for soups, and we dehydrated about 2 pounds to make okra chips (which are so delicious!). We have had 6 eggplants so far, 3 more will be ready this week. I think we’ll have about 3 gallons of green peppers when they finish up. We harvested 3 watermelons (albeit one too soon) and there’s a renegade cantaloupe still growing by the blackberry brambles.

The real winner though, was our tomatoes. We had Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, and Cherry. As I type this right now, I’m looking over the top of my computer to see about 4 pounds of tomatoes on the table in front of me. They will be made into spaghetti sauce later today. And in the closet, we have these, just waiting to turn.

I dare say, we had somewhere between 40-50 pounds of tomatoes throughout the season. We made them into salsa.

We made them into ketchup (aka tomato relish).

We even made 9 pints of tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, and diced tomatoes with peppers and onions for chili. Oh, and we’ve eaten them twice a day for the past month on salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and occasionally in scrambled eggs.

With the fruits and veggies we bought at the Farmer’s Market to put in the freezer, I feel pretty confident that we won’t have to buy much in the way of produce at the grocery store this winter, which is really awesome now that we’re on a tighter budget.

Along with our gardening chores this week, Angie and I decided to go foraging for black walnuts (and hickory nuts). We came home with this-

Being our first time to process black walnuts, we watched a few YouTube videos on best practices. And we put on our best, most water resistant gardening gloves. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. We took the gloves off to find that we looked like this –

If you’ve ever tried to remove this stain, you know that it does not come off. Forget lemon juice or whatever other home remedy is recommended by Google. We tried them all and though we are a lighter shade today, I’m still typing this with walnut stained hands. But the story doesn’t end there. After all our hard work, we went to move our nuts to the shed to cure yesterday and found that despite covering them with wire mesh and scrap lumber, squirrels had carted off about half of them. We may have enough now for one pound of black walnut fudge for the holidays.

I would say that I was going to miss prepping food for the freezer or canning, but I have a feeling that though our garden is done, we aren’t. Dumpster season is starting to ramp up. If you are new here, let me explain. We rescue food from the neighboring grocery store – about 750 pounds over the past 2 1/2 years. Some of it we use, some we donate to others in need, and some of it we compost. Whatever we can do to keep good food out of landfills, we try to do…including making jelly. But I’ll save that story for a special post on Friday 🙂

Did you have a garden this year? How did it do? What was your best producer? Your favorite thing to grow? We’d love to hear your gardening stories!