Wednesday, October 19, 2011
We love preserving, but it's not just jams, jellies, and pickles that we can, it's juice too. Our son is addicted to the stuff. At just three-years-old, it's a favourite that's already showing hints of nostalgia. He drinks his (heavily watered down) juice on the couch in the morning while he watches his shows, and sits on the couch with his juice at grandma's house not taking a sip until the previews are over and the main feature begins on whichever movie he has picked out. Yes, he loves us first, but juice is a really close second.
So to fulfill his need for the stuff we headed to the Niagara region in search of some grapes. We were on our way to a farm in St. Catharines, Ontario that wasn't answering its phone when we saw a trailer with a few bushels of grapes on it at the side of the road just east of Beamsville. We pulled in the driveway and were greeted by the kindest couple. They took Jesse out into the vineyard and started throwing grape varieties at him. Once he tried the green Niagara variety, we couldn't turn them down. Jesse picked a bushel, and we took one of the roadside blue grape bushels for Jane, Jesse's mom.
The couple we bought the grapes from were happy to see us, a young family, come in. They commented on how most people our age don't know how to go to a farm and blindly ask for things anymore... they just know how to go to stores. We bought our grapes and they sent us on our way with free apples and a squash from their garden. All we had to do was drop in on a farm.
We let Jane juice her grapes, and when she was done, we borrowed her steam juicer. Pressing grapes is the traditional way of extracting juice–it's fast and simple–but Jane's juicer does a beautiful job and heats the juice while it's working. We're buying our own soon, this one. It's stainless, which is "non-reactive" and doesn't stain like the aluminum one.
Steam juicing is a very easy process. The lowest part of the steamer's three sections is filled with water. The juice collector sits on top with a volcano-like hole that allows the steam to reach the grapes that are in the top tier where it softens the cells of the fruit, making it lose all of its juice. We've tried the juicer with pears and apples, but their cell structures are too strong, so we just use it for grape. And it does a beautiful job.
But there's a warning involved here. Preserving anything at home presents risks, and we break three major rules canning our juice this way. The first, is that the juice isn't technically at a full boil in the juicer. It's very close for an hour, but it's never at a full boil. The next thing is that we sterilize our bottles in the oven as opposed to boiling them, and the third is that we hot-pack the juice into vintage pop bottles with beer-style crown caps that don't indicate a seal. Whether you're using a steamer, pressing grapes, or even just using a counter-top juicer, the juice should be jarred hot and then the jars should be put into a hot water bath to make sure they're sterile.
These "errors" scare some, but Jesse has been drinking this stuff his whole life (famous last words), and he's never run into a single bad bottle. We're also comfortable with the temperature because it's in a good range for a long period of time. And as far as the old bottles and caps, they're a great use of Jesse's old bottle collection and give off a comforting hiss of air when you pop one open. Regardless, if you're canning into mason jars, a hot water bath is a simple and recommended bit of insurance.
If you drive down to Niagara or your local wine region this weekend, which around here will probably be the end of the season, you're sure to pick up a cheap bushel of grapes. Then pick up a steamer juicer. If you're in Ontario, you can get the Lee Valley one or one at Home Hardware.
But most of all, make an informed decision on how you're going to process your juice. The USDA's National Center for Home Food Preservation grape juice page is a good starting point.