By Mark Wieser:
A few weeks ago, I realized that it was the time of year to make my favorite product – Green Grape Preserves. It’s a very old-fashioned preserve, made from small and very green Wild Mustang Grapes – it must be one of the most unbelievable recipes ever created. Green Grape Preserves are very dark in color and have a tart flavor. To make it, the grapes need to be harvested well before their seeds become even remotely hardened. In Gillespie County, that time is generally around the first days of May.
One can search the ends of the earth and not find a Green Grape Preserves recipe anywhere – you can find one using Thompson seedless green grapes, but that is not what we are after because seedless grapes were first introduced into the market in the 1980s. We are looking for the recipe that may very well have first been created by the early settlers of the Texas Hill Country. Those Mustang grape vines we take for granted, or sometimes view as “pesky” were more prevalent in Central and Eastern Texas than anywhere else during the mid-19th century. Our early settlers must have wondered what kind of paradise they had found, and what good fortune they had to be able to call it home—a place where wild grapes grew in such abundance. That first summer of 1846 most certainly found them using the wild grapes for preserves and even wine by August, but who among them discovered that they could also be used when so tiny, sour and green, remains a mystery.
Harvesting the wild grapes is just the first step toward achieving success. The next requires some hours of removing any vestiges of the stems for each grape. Only then can they be washed and readied for making preserves. The recipe is so simple that it almost seems impossible to conceive. All that is required is one cup sugar or a tad more, to every cup of green grapes, some lemon juice and time. Apply heat and cook until their bright green color begins to turn into a deep darkened emerald. By then the grapes will have shriveled and appear more raisin-like. And, when cooled one will be able to enjoy a taste like none other.
My mother baked bread daily and we always had an amble supply to enjoy, particularly at the end of each meal. Coffee was never forbidden to us, even at a young and tender age. First, a freshly baked slice of bread amply smeared with homemade churned butter. Then it was topped with heaping spoons of green grape preserves and was finally ready to be dunked into coffee. For me, the taste has proven to be unforgettable!
There was one other way we learned to enjoy our bread and jelly. That was to take a slice of bread and place it on a saucer. Add ample amounts of butter and preserves. Cut the bread into bite-sized portions and pour thick fresh cream all over it. We used a fork to sop up extra cream, and the combination of flavors was about as close to heaven that I could imagine at that time. We never even thought about toasting our bread, it was so good. Incidentally, making toast without an electric toaster was done by flopping a slice of bread on a hot, wood-fueled, stove top.
Even though I couldn’t find a modern-day version of a recipe for Green Grape Preserves, we are all very lucky because I still have my mom’s recipe and I am happy to share it with you today:
Estella Wieser’s Green Grape Preserves
Remove stems from 5 cups of wild green grapes*, wash and drain.
Bring 5 cups sugar and 2 cups water to boil, add grapes and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Cook until thickens, pour into jars and cap them.
Turn jar over for a few minutes to sterilize the lid.
* Green mustang grapes must be picked when still seedless; approximately pea size.