Making Wild Grape Jelly

My mom and I are making wild grape jelly today. Last weekend they went canoeing for wild grapes on the Skunk River. They picked two five gallon buckets almost full of grapes. My industrious mother boiled the grapes and hung them up in cheese cloth to drip out their juices.

Now we are boiling the juice with lots of sugar and some pectin. There are seven cups of sugar to the five cups of juice. Wild grapes are sour. Then we will pour the hot jelly into jars and give them a hot water bath to seal shut and that's how you make wild grape jelly. For a full recipe on how to make cooked wild grape jelly click here.

No one else I know of makes grape jelly. Mom says she doesn't know anyone else other than her mother who canned grape jelly from wild grapes.

I looked up wild grape jelly online and a place out of Montana sells it for $1 an once. That is the only place I can find that uses Vitis raparia to make their jelly. The other "wild grapes" used are concord or some other more or less domesticated grape. They are calling any grape with seeds wild. My definition is grapes you didn't plant that are growing wild.

If we could sell all this jelly for a dollar and once, we'd make over $400. Anyone want to buy some wild grape jelly?

According to my internet sources, the wild grapes around Iowa are known as the fox, skunk, or riverbank grapes. Apparently they are called fox or skunk because the skin of the fruit smells like wet fur. Interesting, I never noticed that.

Wild Grape Jelly

This recipe yields 7 cups of jelly.

  • 5 pounds wild grapes on stems
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 7 cups white sugar
  • 1 packet Sure-Jell
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil (optional)
  • Jelly jars for 7 cups of jelly
  1. In the Midwest wild grapes usually ripen in August. Take a canoe trip down the river or walk the banks and fill your old 2-gallon ice-cream bucket with grapes. Use a produce sale to weigh the grapes stems and all. A full two gallon bucket should be about five pounds.
  2. Wash the grapes gently in cool water. Remove any damaged grapes and leaves. Don't worry about taking the grapes off their stems; it's a lot of work and it doesn't affect the recipe.
  3. Put the grapes in a big pot and add 3 1/2 cups water. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. After boiling pour through a cheese cloth or a strainer to remove the stems and grape skins. Do not press or force the grapes through this will give you cloudy juice.  Just let it sit a couple hours or over night even and you will be left with a clear juice.
  4. Measure how much juice you have made. You should be close to 5 cups juice. It is important to be exact. If it is over 5 cups discard the extra. If it is not enough add water to reach five cups. It is key not to dilute your juice. If you are more than a half cup under, boil more grapes or reduce the recipe accordingly. At this point you can save your juice and make jelly another day or you can keep going.
  5. Get out your canning jars, lids and the canner. Start by filling the canner half full with water and bringing the water to a simmer. Keep the water simmering while you make the jelly.
  6. Sterilize your jelly jars and their lids by either running them through a hot dishwasher, or washing them in soapy water and then carefully pouring boiling water over them. Keep the jars clean by placing them upside down on a clean towel. Avoid contaminating them, do not put your fingers, or tongs inside the jars.
  7. In a 6 or 8 quart sauce pan add the 5 cups juice and the packet of pectin. At this point you can add the vegetable oil if you want. It will help reduce foaming so the jelly has a nice smooth surface as it cools and make it more manageable in the sauce pan. Measure out the white sugar and have it standing ready.
  8. Over high heat bring the juice and pectin to a full boil, stir constantly with a metal spoon. Pour the sugar in and continue stirring. When the jelly returns to a rolling boil, time exactly one minute, then remove the pan from the burner. Use the metal spoon to skim any foam off the top.
  9. Working quickly pour the hot jelly into the jelly jars. Leave at least a quarter inch between the jelly and the rim of the jar. If needed with a clean towel wipe the lip and rim of the jar clean. Then cover the jar with the lid and screw on the band tightly.
  10. Carefully remove the jar rack from the canner and place the hot jars into the jar rack. Lower the rack into the canner. The water should be 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Add more hot water if needed. Cover and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes.
  11. Using tongs and hot pads, remove the jelly jars from the canner and place upside down on towels to cool. 
  12. When the jars are completely cool check the seals my pressing on the lid. You should not be able to depress the lid. If one of the jars doesn't seal put it in the refrigerator and use it first. Store your jelly in a dark, temperature controlled place. The jelly will be good for years, but I doubt it will last that long.


  1. My mom makes grape jelly ... but not from wild grapes. She uses the ones that grow in the backyard. Sounds like you guys had fun. I love jelly/jam making time with mom!

  2. Anonymous8/27/2006

    Timmy tells me that his grandma used to make wild grape jelly, I think it's one of those Iowa old school farm wife secrets, I wonder what other Iowa old school farm wife secrets there are.

  3. Anonymous8/20/2010

    I live in Western Iowa and I have made wild grape jelly forever. I also make wild plumb and eldeberry jelly. Another woman I know makes corn cob jelly!