There's something very rewarding about foraging for wild fruit and bringing it home to make something delicious with it in the kitchen. When I was a kid growing up in Washington state we foraged for wild huckleberries. We made huckleberry pie, jam, ice cream - anything and everything we could make out of them. My brothers and I would head up into the mountains with our dad in search of the tasty and tart berries. Our dad would carry a rifle strapped to his back because where there are wild huckleberries there are sure to be wild bears as well. We would fill a bucket full of the fruit and then head back home to process them into tasty treats.
Here in Texas the wild mustang grape and dewberry are very similar. The great thing about these wild fruits is that they are abundant and you don't have to hike up a mountainside to compete with bears to find them. If you have property here in the Brazos Valley you have probably encountered wild mustang grapes or dewberries at some point.
The wild mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis) is native to the Southern United States and its range includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. The fruit is very tart and the skin is very thick, but when you extract the juice and add sugar the flavor of the grape really shines through and makes for a delicious jelly.
To begin, harvest 3 lbs of wild mustang grapes from the vine. *Note - when foraging for wild plants you should be absolutely sure you have correctly identified the plant. There are berries that look very similar that can be toxic. Once you have your grapes harvested it's time to wash them and remove the stems.
Once the grapes are rinsed, place them in a large pot with 2 cups of water over high heat. Bring the grapes to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and use a potato masher to mash the grapes into a pulp to remove all of the juice. Carefully strain the pulp and juice through a fine mesh strainer into a heat proof bowl. To expedite the process use the back of a spoon to extract all of the juice through the strainer.
When you have all of the juice strained the next step is to get your canning equipment all setup and ready. This recipe will make approximately 8 half-pint jars. Wash and sterilize your jars and lids and get a pot of water boiling to process the jars in. You can buy canning kits that come with all of the equipment necessary to complete the next few steps.
You will need the following equipment for this project:
8 half pint jars
8 lids and rings
Head space measuring tool
Jar tongs for placing and removing jars from boiling water
Large processing pot
You can buy kits on Amazon that include a lot of these essential tools together.
When your jars are sterilized and your processing pot is boiling, pour your grape juice back into a pot and bring to a boil. Add one package of pectin to the liquid and stir. Add all of the sugar at once and stir to incorporate. Bring the liquid back to a rolling boil and let it boil for another minute.
Remove the jelly mixture from the heat and quickly ladle the liquid through a funnel into the canning jars leaving 1/4" of head space on top of each jar. Wipe the rim of the jars to make sure there is not any jelly liquid on the rim as this can prevent the jars from sealing properly. Place a lid and a ring on each jar and tighten them. Lower the jars into your processing pot using tongs. To safely process the jelly be sure you have an inch of boiling water over the top of the jars and prevent the jars from touching each other during the process. Process the jars for 10 minutes in the boiling water.
Carefully remove the jars from the boiling water and place them on the counter on a towel to cool. You will hear a "popping" sound as the jars begin to seal properly. If any of your jars don't seal properly you can place those jars straight into the fridge or freezer to be used first.
Corey Wahl - director of farm operations at Ronin Farm - Bryan, TX.