Think of drinking wine under a vine-covered trellis and you’ll probably be transported back to the heady romance of a holiday in Greece or Italy. I don’t have so far to travel. I just go to Tufnell Park. There, in a north London garden, my in-laws have an old and magnificent vine which in late summer is garlanded with small, sweet black grapes.
It’s a variety called Brant and the people who originally planted it used to make wine. Mandy and I have in the past made vino cotto, a Sicilian grape reduction which is terrific with game or just spooned over ice cream.
This year when Mandy gave me the usual laundry basket heaped with grapes I thought I’d try something else and the family vote went, in the end, to grape jelly. I made two versions, one plain, one spiced.
If you are lucky enough to have a grape vine (or your neighbour’s is tumbling enticingly and irresistibly over your fence) you might like to try this. If you’d prefer the plain version, follow the recipe but omit the second simmer with the spices. You will need to use sugar with added pectin for a good set.
Spiced Grape Jelly
A quantity of grapes
A splash of water
Pectin sugar (see recipe)
Lemon juice (see recipe)
For the spice bag:
1 tspn allspice berries
1/2 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
A blade of mace
Wash the grapes, pick off any that are blemished and strip them from their stems. Place in a large preserving pan and add just enough water to stop them catching – a cupful should do as they’ll quickly release a lot of juice.
Heat the grapes until they bubble and burst, and simmer for 20 minutes, squashing them with a potato masher. Strain through a jelly bag, taking care not to squeeze it through, otherwise the juice will go cloudy. Leave overnight if possible to get the maximum amount.
Pour the liquid back into the cleaned pan and add the spices, tied in a piece of muslin. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes or until it has reached your preferred level of spiciness. Discard the spice bag.
Measure the liquid and for every 500 ml, add 500g of pectin sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Put everything back in the pan and boil rapidly until it reaches setting point, roughly 10-20 minutes. To test the set, put a spoonful of jelly on a cold plate and if, after a few minutes, it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, you’re there.
Skim off any scum, pour into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately. It’s hard to convey here the jelly’s amazingly deep purple colour – you’ll have to take my word for it because the picture really doesn’t do it justice.