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?

Life, Love, and Ruminations on Boredom

Angie is visiting her parents in Texas for the next two weeks, so Caesar and I are holding down the fort. This annual trip usually takes place in June, when the garden is just getting started, but our favorite little human came to visit us then and the trip was delayed. So now, the garden is in full swing and Caesar and I are ever-so-diligently trying to keep up. Okay, truthfully, Caesar is no help at all. This is how he spends most of his time now:

He very much enjoys the $6 patio rug we “stole” at a yard sale earlier this year. (It retails for more than $200 at World Market. Yay, us!)

Anyway, it has only been a few days since Angie left, but they have been busy ones. The tomatoes have been coming off like hotcakes (and so have the field peas!).

Saturday’s tomato and pea harvest. Remember, we only have about 20 sq. feet of garden space.

I spent most of Monday washing, peeling, and cooking tomatoes to can or freeze – which meant that I also had to organize and inventory the freezer.

Almost full!

Yes, there are plastic things in the freezer. We have a “use it until it dies before recycling it” policy here, and most of these plastic things are older than Caesar. (Okay, maybe not that old. He’ll be 17 next month.)

Aside from preserving the harvest of our little garden, I’ve been watching our first ever watermelon grow. This is Angie’s baby. She saved the seeds from a late summer melon last year and convinced my mom to let us put it in the sunniest spot available – right next to the house.

And if that wasn’t busy enough, I’ve been working on crafts for the winter craft show, I picked up a new grant writing gig, and I started relearning the ins and outs of video editing for YouTube.

Now, make no mistake, I’m in no way glorifying busyness for the sake of simply being busy. I’ve taken some time to read and relax with Caesar on the patio too, but the truth of the matter is, I miss my person and staying busy helps tremendously with that.

You might think that two people who spend ever single day together would relish a break. Not us. In nearly a decade, we’ve not run out of things to say to one another. Our [crazy] ideas and adventures provide a steady stream of learning and growing experiences and we truly enjoy doing things together. When either of us is away, we miss the heck out of one another and get an insane amount of projects done at the same time. When I was in NC last fall, Angie took woodworking to a whole new level and even painted my mom’s kitchen!

Our life is never boring, that’s for sure. Speaking of which…

My uncle (yes, this one) is coming to visit my mom this weekend and bringing his kids (age 12 and 14). Right now, they are at the beach, enjoying the last bits of summer before heading back to school. Okay, that last part is a complete lie – not just a half-truth or an exaggeration. They are indeed at the beach but they are not enjoying anything. They are BORED. These kids haven’t left the hotel room except to go eat. My uncle spent $2,100 to stay in a resort right on the beach; and one day in, they are already BORED. They haven’t been to the pool, walked the boardwalk, taken a ride on the giant ferris wheel, enjoyed an ice cream cone, or picked up a single sea shell. My mom says they may even leave early to come here.

I mention this because I have a feeling that even though I’m not a child, I’m going to be expected to entertain them, and that’s just not going to happen. I have zero patience for bored young people, especially ones that have access to a plethora of things to do and deliberately choose not to do them.  And no patience for parents who think their middle-school age children can’t walk a boardwalk by themselves (or go out in their own yard) for fear they will be abducted. My grandmother (the same one who raised my uncle) used to tell me (repeatedly) that if someone were to abduct me, they would bring me back in a hot minute once they saw how much trouble I was. She was joking, of course, but the real message was this – go play, nothing is going to happen. She, along with my parents, taught me not to talk to strangers or get in cars or help find lost puppies; all the while instilling confidence in me instead of fear.

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen and real children disappear but in reality the likelihood of a child being abducted is 1 in 300,000. They are 100 times more likely to get struck by lightning. Yet, neither is a good enough reason to make your children so afraid to go outside that they miss out on the beauty of the world in which they live. I’m not sure how my cousins will fair on their visit to TN if they are already bored at the beach, but we shall see.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject of safety vs. independence when raising children. Or your thoughts on life, love, gardening, or any other topic for that matter 🙂


Cover photo: Our niece (circa the summer of 2008) during our 6-week adventure in Colorado. She turned 21 this week and is still one of the most independent, free-spirited, fun-loving folks I know. Happy Birthday!!