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?

Happy Dumpster-versary!

I stopped by Walmart the other day to pick up some things for my mom. As I was crossing the parking lot, headed back to my car, I saw a lone orange that had come to rest just a few feet away. Or course, I picked it up. I have no idea how or why oranges (and sometimes apples) end up at the south end of the Walmart parking lot, mostly unaffected by their rather long journey across bumpy and grimy asphalt, but I find at least 1 or 2 a month. In the way that hobos mark the homes of people who are kind, Angie teases that fresh fruit escapes the waste bin and make its way to the area where I’m known to park so that I will give it a good home.

As I picked up the orange, it hit me…February was our food-rescue anniversary. We’ve been digging through the dumpster at ALDI (which is next door to Walmart) for two years now. While we make no secret of this fact, I also realized just how few people in our immediate family know that we do this. For a minute, I started feeling like a superhero – a plain-Jane writer by day who dons a cape and saves food from the landfill by night. Ok, I don’t own a cape…yet…

Imagining us as dumpster heroes was all well and good until I started thinking about why the world needs dumpster heroes in the first place – because we waste so much food! And by we, I mean everyone from the farmer who leaves crops in the field to the stores who throw out good food items to make room for newer ones every week, from the consumer who buys more than what he/she can eat to the restauranteurs that feed the garbage bin rather than their hungry neighbors. Picking up a single orange off the pavement is just a tiny droplet on the surface of a big, big pond of problems.

But…it only takes a droplet to cause a ripple, then ripples create waves, and waves create change.

We dig through the dumpster for many reasons, not the least of which is to raise awareness of the amount of food wasted by retailers like ALDI. Don’t get me wrong, I like ALDI. My sister even works for them (at a different location) and we shop there sometimes, but I hate their policy of tossing food that’s within 3 days of expiration. It’s stupid. It’s even stupider not to mark these items down and try to sell them, like Kroger and Walmart do. I can’t imagine preferring to take a total loss on a product rather than selling it for half-price.  From a business standpoint, that makes no sense to me.

In 2017, we rescued 330 pounds of food from the dumpster. In 2018, it was 348 pounds. And this year, we’re up to 50 pounds already. We eat this food. We share this food. We donate this food to places that can use it. And in the rare case that none of these things happen, we compost this food.

We don’t expect everyone reading this to run to the nearest dumpster and start pulling out produce…unless you really want to, then we certainly support you…but we do hope you will make your own waves of change toward reducing food waste. Here are a few ideas to help get you started: