America’s favorite juice and jelly grape, the Concord, is ripe now. We have a single vine that was planted a number of years ago by our daughter who gave it to her dad for Father’s Day. It took a few years before it matured enough to harvest grapes; now many years later and with the right early-spring pruning and weather conditions, we have a large number of grapes to harvest and enjoy. When the harvests were small, it was possible for me to turn what we harvested into a batch of grape jam or jelly for family or occasional gift use. As my kids left and the harvest increased, it was no longer possible to easily use what we were harvesting for jam and jelly and it took too much time to make juice.
In my quest to conquer the grape harvest, I learned about steam juicers. After researching them, I purchased a stainless steel unit and haven’t looked back. Steam juicers have three pots and a lid that stack on top of each other–water reservoir at the bottom, collection pan with funnel opening in the middle, and steam basket on top. They work by stewing the juice out of the fruit. Water in the bottom pot is brought to a low boil, the steam funnels through the middle collection pan up and through the fruit in the steam basket at the top. The steam does all the work. As the fruit heats up, the fruit juices are released and run down into the middle collection section of the juicer. As the collection pan fills, the juice begins to run out of the unit through a silicon tube on the front of the extraction section to a collection vessel placed away from the unit. The juice is clear, free of pulp, and is ready to drink, can, or freeze after it comes out of the steamer. So easy!
The steamer saves so much time and effort. After the grapes are picked, I wash the bunches and as I do so, I pull off any green or unripe grapes, leaves, and other debris that might be attached. There is no need to stem, remove seeds or skins, or crush. They are then packed into the basket and placed atop the middle extraction section with slowly boiling water below. With the lid in place, the steam slowly goes to work. There is no chance of over steaming the fruit; one just needs to be mindful of keeping sufficient water in the lower pot so that it doesn’t boil dry. Extraction is complete when the fruit has completely collapsed; it is a good idea to let the collapsed fruit sit for awhile after steaming as juice will continue to be released for a long while after steaming. If there is need to move on with another batch, the collapsed fruit can be placed in a colander on the counter and allowed to drain while steaming goes on with additional batches.
Directions one might find online suggest that the juice can be drained right into hot sterilized canning jars, capped, and left to cool on the counter. This is not a good practice if the intention is put the juice on the shelf; doing so would be fine if the juice was to be used immediately or frozen. To be shelf safe, fruit juices need to be processed in a hot water bath. (For more information see National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
Since I do not have room in my freezer for all the juice I get, I need to prepare it for the shelf. Instead of collecting the juice in sterilized jars, I collect all the juice in a large pot or pots. After all the grapes have been juiced, I reheat the juice to near boiling, fill the sterilized canning jars leaving 1/4-inch head space, cap, and place in a boiling water canner for the appropriate time for my altitude.
Once the jars have cooled and sat for 24 hours undisturbed, the juice is read for future jelly making or as juice to drink. Sugar can be added prior to or after canning if needed; it’s all a matter of personal preference. I usually don’t add sugar to our grape juice as we like it as is. However, my grand kids like it a bit sweeter so they add a little sugar to their individual glasses to suit their taste. We also like it mixed with apple juice. After the juice has cooled and set on the counter undisturbed for 24 hours, it is ready to go on my shelf.
The juicer is good for far more than grapes. Just about any type of fruit works with a steam juicer; cherries, plums, apricots, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pears are just some suggestions.