Adventures in Juicing

Several years ago, my brother-in-law was out and about exploring our property and came across a huge concord grape vine off in the jungle behind our house. It’s spread across a number of other trees and bushes, and ever since we discovered we had it, we’ve been tinkering around trying to figure out how best to use it. The grapes are delicious, but they have seeds. We thought we could use them for smoothies, but that hasn’t proven popular. (The seeds end up making things too bitter.) We made some simple canned juice from them (put grapes and sugar and boiling water in a can, and seal), and we’ve given some away to friends, but we still hadn’t found anything that really worked.

A friend on Facebook posted about her juicing approach with grapes. She uses a steam juicer to get the job done. After some back and forth with her, it seemed like something I wanted to try. We borrowed a steam juicer from another friends, and last night we decided to give it a whirl.

First, Tomas and I went out to Pick the Grapes. This is more difficult than your standard grape picking experience, mainly because the vine is wild, and you have to really climb all over the place to get all the grapes you’re looking for. That said, after about a half hour, we had gotten two big buckets full of grapes. I would guess it was about 4 gallons of grapes. I have no idea if that’s a lot of grapes or not, but it certainly felt like a lot to me.

The steam juicer is pretty straightforward. There’s a large pan at the bottom where you put in a ton of water. On top of that goes a juice collector with a spigot, and on top of that goes a strainer, essentially: a receptacle for putting whatever you’re juicing into. It’s all capped off with a lid. Once you get the water boiling, somehow that makes the juice all come out and go into collector. I’m personally convinced it’s little demons, but maybe there’s some science involved as well.

We cleaned all the grapes (rinsing them off and taking out the grody ones. We left the stems on.) and put them into the receptacle. Once we had them all jammed in there, all of them fit in one batch. Then it’s just sit back and let the thing steam steam steam. Meanwhile, we cleaned jars and got the lids boiled for canning. We kept the jars in a 250 degree oven, because when that juice comes out, it’s very hot, and you don’t want the jars shattering. (Something I have personal experience, from an earlier canning expedition . . .)

Honestly, it went much more smoothly than I expected. The one trick was just figuring out how best to get the juice into the jars. It took some tilting of the juicer to get the right angle. Definitely a two person job. But the spigot has a clamp so you can start or stop the flow, and now that I know what I’m doing, I don’t think it would be bad to do again. We did notice the juice stains really quickly. I think we permanently stained our countertops. Luckily, we’re ripping them out next week, so that’s not that big of a deal, but I wouldn’t wear anything I was too attached to the next time I do this . . .

The two buckets made 6 quarts of juice, though after we finished, we realized we probably could have let it keep steaming for a while and gotten maybe another quart out of it. From start to finish, it took about two hours (not including grape harvesting). The juice itself is really potent; I had to add some water and sugar to get it just right, though I’ve now heard adding Sprite can really hit the spot.

In the end, it was definitely a success, and I will probably try it again next year.

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