All along the rural roads in Texas there are wild mustang grapes and muscadine grapes that grow. Every summer we go grape hunting and pick enough grapes to make grape jelly and grape juice. Mustang grapes and muscadine grapes are not the same plant, although most of us use the terms interchangeably, but they and other grapes are preserved exactly the same.
I like to keep track of all my home preserved food with these worksheets so I can know how much we use and need to preserve each hear. You can get the worksheets email to you by filling out the form below.
Mustang grape or muscadine grape?
While mustang grapes and muscadine grape are not the same plant, they are closely related and functionally the same – they’re wild native grapes. The only person I ever correct on this is my husband and its because it’s one of the foraging things I can identify better than him so I rub it in. Otherwise I just let people call our mustang grape jelly muscadine jelly when they thank me for it.
The easiest way to tell the difference between mustang grapes and muscadine grapes is to look at their leaves. Mustang grape leaves are a green on the top side and gray on the underside, they’re also fuzzy. Muscadine grapes are green on both sides and not fuzzy.
The fruit of both of these wild grapes is dark blue, almost black, and has a thick skin. But the insides are different. The inside of a muscadine is sweet and the inside of the mustang grape is tart and acidic. Foraging Texas has photos and tips for identifying mustang grapes and muscadine grapes.
The tartness of the mustang grape is what I think makes mustang grapes so wonderful for jelly and juice. But I’m not a purist and I’ll mix all the wild grapes we can find together to preserve.
Gathering Mustang Grapes
Not only is the inside of the grape acidic but the leaves have a lot of tannins in them. These tannins and acid can cause your skin to itch, so you might want to wear gloves while picking and preparing mustang grapes.
It’s easy to find mustang grapes growing along fence lines and up trees which makes them easy to forage. Just make sure that you have permission from the property owner and that you don’t pick from questionable places.
Preparing Mustang Grapes
It doesn’t matter if you are going to make jelly, juice, or wine the grapes have to be turned into juice first.
Once the grapes are picked, wash them thoroughly. After they’ve been washed we pull the grapes off the stems and put them in a large stockpot. with about an inch of water in it.
Once the stockpot is full turn the heat on under the stockpot to medium and put a lid on the pot. You’ll want to stir the grapes occasionally to make sure none of them stick to the bottom of the pot.
As the grapes heat up you can use a potato masher and mash the grapes a bit. Simmer until all the grapes are cooked through and it looks like a purple grape soup.
Turn the heat off and let the grapes cool down a bit.
Next you’re going to strain the solids from the juice. I do this in a few steps instead of trying to get a clear juice in just one or two strainings.
Sometimes I put colanders in large bowls and put the grapes in the colanders to strain out the large solids first. Sometimes I use our vintage metal strainers. The point is to strain the juice from the large solids in the first straining.
Then I strain the juice from the bowls through a jelly strainer. Sometimes I’ll hold a fine mesh hand strainer over the jelly strainer and get a double strain. You can also use old (but clean, of course) pantyhose.
This is the most time consuming part of preserving mustang grapes and if this is all you get done in the day its okay. You can put the juice in the refrigerator overnight and can the jelly or juice the next day. If you won’t be able to get to it the next day, put the juice in the freezer. Here are some tips for freezing in glass containers if you want to freeze them in mason jars.
I recently bought a steam juicer and it makes this process so much easier and less messy!
Making Mustang Grape Jelly
The first time we foraged mustang grapes years ago, I called my Granny to get her super wonderful, super secret mustang grape jelly recipe. Are you ready for it? Here’s what she said…”Go buy a box of SureJel and follow the directions.”
Like most women of her generation, my Granny was super frugal and could stretch a penny til it screamed. She also knew how to do all kinds of things that are labeled “homesteading” today. She just called them skills for living. She was bit no-nonsense and believed that if you could read you were smart enough to follow written instructions without any hand holding. She was wonderful.
So every year I buy pectin to make our mustang grape jelly. I don’t always use SureGel (I later found out that my Granny called all pectin SureGel) but I do use store bought pectin. If you don’t want to use store bought pectin you can make your own from various unripe fruits. Joybilee Farm has a recipe for making your own pectin from apple skins.
In order for jelly to gel and set up properly you need to have a good ratio of juice, sugar and acid which is why recipes will tell you not to reduce the sugar or double the recipe. If you do, you run the risk of the jelly not setting. So be sure to check the instructions that are in the box of pectin.
Before you start making the mustang grape jelly you’ll want to prepare your jars, lids and water bath canner. Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Fill the water bath canner about half way with water. (here are some tips for using a water bath canner)Turn the heat on under the water bath canner and put the jars in to pre-sterilize by boiling for 10 minutes. Pints and half pints of grape jelly only needs to be processed for 5 minutes so the jars need to be pre-sterilized. If you process them for 10 minutes you don’t need to pre-sterilize them but you run the risk of the pectin breaking down and the jelly being soft. It doesn’t happen very often, but it can happen.
If you use regular store bought pectin and not a low sugar pectin the ratio for grape jelly will probably be be 5 cups grape juice, 7 cups sugar and 1 box pectin. You’ll bring the grape juice and sugar to a boil, add the pectin, then bring it to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute.
Remove the empty jars from the water bath canner and fill with hot grape jelly mixture. Wipe the rims with a clean damp rag and put lids on the jars. Put the filled jars back into the water bath canner and bring it to a boil and process for 5 minutes (adjusting for altitude.)
After they’ve processed for 5 minutes remove the jars from the canner and put them on a towel on the counter to cool. Let them completely cool (I usually let them sit for 24 hours before I move them) then remove the lids and check the seals. If any didn’t seal put them in the refrigerator to use first. Store the sealed jars wherever you store your home canned food.
- 5 cups mustang grape juice
- 7 cups granulated sugar
- 1 box pectin
- Measure out 7 cups of sugar into a medium bowl and set
- In a large stockpot, combine grape juice and pectin.
- Bring to a full rolling boil - will not stop bubbling even when stirred.
- Once boiling, add sugar all at once - stir well to combine.
- Bring back to a full rolling boil and boil rapidly, stirring
constantly for 1 minute exactly.
- Remove from heat, skim off any foam and ladle into hot
sterilized jars, filling to 1/8 inch from top.
- Put lids and band on jars and tighten bands fingertip tight.
- Place the jars in canner rack and lower into gently boiling
water, covering tops of jars by at least one inch (adding more water if
- Place the lid on the canner and bring to a boil.
- Gently boil for 10 minutes.
- Carefully remove jars from canner and place upright on a
towel-lined countertop or cooling rack and allow to cool completely – 12 to 24
- Remove the bands and check the seals. The lids should not have
any give to them. You should be able to pick up the jar by the lid and the lid
should stay on.
- Label and store the sealed jars. If any jars failed to seal,
put them in the refrigerator to use first.
It's important to follow the directions and portions listed in the instructions that come with the pectin. Don't change quantities and don't double the recipe or you run the risk of the jelly not gelling.
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Canning Mustang Grape Juice
The first time I canned mustang grape juice was simply because we had harvested too many grapes and had way more grape juice than we need for jelly making. I wasn’t sure how we would use it because mustang grape juice is pretty tart even with sugar added. But we found that we really like it added to club soda for a treat.
I usually strain the juice once more just to be sure most of the pulp is out before I can it so it’s not so thick. I add approximately one cup sugar for each quart of mustang grape juice that I’m canning. Put the juice and sugar in a large stockpot and bring to a boil.
To can mustang grape juice prepare jars, lids and water bath canner. Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Fill the water bath canner about half way with water. Turn the heat on under the water bath canner. If you’re using pints and quarts you can pre-sterilize them and process the juice for 5 minutes. Or not pre-sterilize them and process the jars for 10 minutes. Since you don’t use pectin when canning mustang grape juice there’s no concern with processing the filled jars longer than recommended and not pre-sterilizing the jars.
I don’t pre-sterilize the jars and process for 10 minutes. I do keep the jars hot until I’m ready to fill them.
Once the juice is boiling, remove it from the heat and fill the hot jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp rag and put lids on the jars. Put the filled jars back into the water bath canner and bring it to a boil and process for 10 minutes.
After they’ve processed for 10 minutes remove the jars from the canner and put them on a towel on the counter to cool. Let them completely cool then remove the lids and check the seals. If any didn’t seal put them in the refrigerator to use first. Store the sealed jars wherever you store your home canned food.
- Filtered Mustang Grape Juice
- Sugar (approximately 1 cup for each quart of grape juice)
- I usually strain the juice once more just to be sure most of the pulp is out before I can it so it's not so thick.
- Put the juice and sugar in a large stockpot and bring to a boil.
- Prepare jars, lids and water bath canner. Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Fill the water bath canner about half way with water. Turn the heat on under the water bath canner.
- Once the juice is boiling, remove it from the heat and fill the hot jars.
- Wipe the rims with a clean damp rag and put lids on the jars.
- Put the filled jars back into the water bath canner and bring it to a boil and process for 10 minutes.
- After they've processed for 10 minutes remove the jars from the canner and put them on a towel on the counter to cool.
- Let them completely cool then remove the lids and check the seals. If any didn't seal put them in the refrigerator to use first. Store the sealed jars wherever you store your home canned food.
Fermented wild grape juice
When most people hear about fermented wild grape juice they thing of wine and that’s one way to ferment mustang grape juice. But you can also use lacto-fermentation to make more of a grape soda. Learning and Yearning has instructions on how to make fermented grape juice soda.
If you want to try your hand at mustang grape wine here are some instructions from Master of Horticulture. I’ve tried mustang grape wine but I’ve never made it. It’s a dry (or tart, I’m not sure about wine terminology) and I refer sweet wines but those with me really liked it.
Do you forage wild grapes? What do you do with them?