Grape jelly is one of the most popular fruit preserves, especially with kids. Learn how to make your own homemade grape jelly from fresh grapes or grape juice.
Peanutbutter and grape jelly sandwiches are one of those things that just about everyone enjoys as a child, at least here in the US.
Grapes are absolutely delicious but short-lived, and it can be hard to preserve them at home (unless you’re making homemade wine). Making grape jelly allows you to both preserve grapes and make something that kids and adults can both enjoy!
While concord grape jelly is the best known, any variety of grape can make grape jelly. Each will have its own flavor and color, ranging from dark purple to pink to white grape jelly.
Best Grapes for Grape Jelly
We grow half a dozen varieties of grapes here on our zone 4 homestead. A few of them are table grapes (eating grapes), but most are wine grapes mostly because they’re the only ones hardy enough to survive our cold Vermont winters.
I’ve made grape jelly with all of them, as well as wild grape jelly, and I can tell you they’re all absolutely delicious.
Sweet table grapes have the least flavor, but the most sugar, which makes them good for fresh eating. The thing is, when you’re making grape jelly you’ll be adding sugar, so it doesn’t matter if the grapes are tart when fresh.
Taste the grapes, and if you enjoy their flavor, they’ll make delicious grape jelly. Don’t let tartness throw you off, look past the sweetness and try to taste the grape flavor, imagining it with added sugar. Sometimes the sour grapes are the best and create some really complex flavors.
If you want to keep it simple for picky kids, go with sweet table grapes (or bottled grape juice).
Juicing Grapes for Jelly
The first step to making grape jelly from fresh grapes is juicing the grapes. If you have ready-made grape juice already, go on and skip ahead.
I use a steam juicer to juice fruit from our homegrown grapevines, and it can hold about 10 pounds of fruit at once. That allows me to just toss the fruit in and let them seam while I keep working in the garden.
Using our outdoor canning kitchen means I can keep an eye on the pot while still enjoying the sunshine. It also means I’m not heating up the house in the summer months.
If you don’t have a steam juicer, you can simply juice grapes for jelly in a stockpot. Stem the grapes and place them in a stockpot with a small amount of water (to prevent scorching).
A “batch” of grape jelly requires 4 cups of strained grape juice. You’ll need about 3 1/2 pounds of grapes and 1/2 cup of water to yield a 4 cups grape juice.
Turn on the heat and mash the grapes to help them release their juice. Grapes are mostly juice, and don’t take much cooking before they completely fall apart. It only takes about 10 minutes before you can turn off the heat.
Straining, however, takes a bit longer. The grape juice should strain for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
You can use a jelly bag or a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tieing the cheesecloth and hanging it over a bowl helps encourage the juice to strain more quickly.
That’s what I do when I’m making a small batch from just a few pounds of grapes.
In the picture below, I’m straining juice from green grapes, and you’ll notice that it’s cloudy and grey. That’s totally normal, it’ll brighten up into a classic white grape jelly once you add the pectin.
Pectin contains citric acid to help activate the mixture, and that acid will cause the grape juice to clear. (You can also add a splash of lemon juice to help it along.)
Prevening Crystals in Grape Jelly
At this point, you could just measure the juice and begin making grape jelly, but I don’t recommend it.
Grapes naturally contain tartaric acid, which is perfectly fine to eat when it’s dissolved inside the grapes, but it can form crystals when heated. Those crystals will settle out of the juice during the jelly-making process, and they’re quite sharp.
It’s not fun to eat grape jelly full of tartrate crystals.
Every grape variety has a different amount, and some may not form any crystals at all. If you’ve made grape jelly without crystals forming then you likely have a variety that’s low in tartaric acid.
Congratulations! You got lucky, but you never know when you’re working with a new grape variety.
The easy way to remove them is to simply refrigerate the juice overnight before making grape jelly. The crystals will precipitate out in the refrigerator, and you can gently decant the juice.
Pour the refrigerated grape juice through a double layer of cheesecloth, or other fine woven cloth like muslin, a clean scrap of an old cotton t-shirt, or a cloth napkin. Most of the crystals will sink to the bottom, so pour gently so that you don’t disturb them.
How to Make Grape Jelly
Once you have grape juice, either extracted from fresh fruit or simply purchased from the store, you’re ready to make grape jelly.
Start by measuring the juice. A “batch” of grape jelly requires 4 cups of juice. That’s because you’ll be using added pectin to make the jelly and each box is good for roughly 4 cups of liquid.
I’ve tried making grape jelly without added pectin, and it’s really tricky. Grapes don’t have quite enough natural pectin to set, especially when you remove their skins. You can, however, make grape jam with the skins without added pectin, but that’s a very different preserve.
If you’d like to try making grape jelly without pectin, I’ll walk you through that process a bit later.
Add 4 cups of juice and 1 box of powdered pectin to a heavy-bottomed dutch oven or stockpot. Stir to dissolve the pectin and bring the mixture to a boil. Don’t add the sugar yet. The sugar must be added last when you’re using regular boxed pectin, and the grape jelly won’t set if you add it at the beginning.
Be sure you use a large pot and fill it no more than halfway, as the mixture will foam to double its volume as it cooks.
Allow the grape juice and pectin mixture to boil hard for about 1 minute, and then add the sugar.
The total amount of sugar varies considerably in different grape jelly recipes, but you’ll need at least 4 cups. Standard boxed fruit pectin (like Sure-Jell) requires a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar by volume to set properly. Some recipes use as much as 6 to 8 cups of sugar, and that’s quite sweet even by modern standards.
Grape juice is already quite sweet. I’d suggest using as little as possible, and going with 4 cups unless you have exceptionally tart grapes.
Stir the sugar into the grape juice/pectin mixture and bring the pot back to a hard boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and ladle the grape jelly into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
It takes 12 to 48 hours for pectin to set, so be patient if it’s not set as soon as it cools. Give it time, and soon you’ll have a beautifully set grape jelly.
Low Sugar Grape Jelly
For standard pectin, you must use a 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar. If you’d like to lower the sugar further, switch to low sugar pectin.
I personally love Sure-Jell Low Sugar Pectin, and you can follow this exact grape jelly recipe, and just add less sugar. Anywhere from 1/2 cup to 4 cups sugar will work great with low sugar pectin. Be aware the yield will be somewhat lower.
Pomona’s Universal Pectin is another low sugar pectin option, but it has very different instructions. They use a calcium water activator to set the pectin (instead of sugar), which allows you to make grape jelly without added sugar (or just with less sugar).
In the past, I’ve used Pomona’s, but it sets hard like jello rather than making a smooth spreadable jelly. I no longer recommend it simply because it doesn’t create the best texture, but it will work if that’s what you have on hand. (Instructions are in the package.)
Grape Jelly with Liquid Pectin
Liquid pectin requires much more sugar to set, and it’s added in a different order. To make grape jelly with liquid pectin, start by mixing the sugar and grape juice and bringing the mixture to a boil.
Note this is the opposite of powdered pectin, where you must add the sugar last.
Once the sugar and grape juice come to a hard boil, add a single pouch of liquid pectin. Allow the mixture to return to a boil for 1 minute and then remove it from the heat.
Liquid pectin requires 7 cups of sugar to 4 cups of grape juice, so it’s almost double the amount you’d need for powdered pectin.
Grape Jelly without Pectin
As I mentioned, making grape jelly without pectin is actually pretty tricky. I love making jams and jellies without pectin whenever possible, but I’ve still yet to make a no pectin grape jelly that actually sets.
The closest I’ve come is with wild grapes, which thickened to somewhere about halfway between a syrup and a jelly…but still didn’t “set.”
Some books suggest that you use about 1/3 underripe grapes, since unripe fruit has more pectin. Even that didn’t really help when I tried it.
The book Canning for a New Generation has a recipe for grape jelly with green apples, that basically uses the pectin from green apples to set a grape jelly. Even still, she notes that it still won’t set properly much of the time and it’s temperamental.
In her recipe, she simmers 3 1/2 pounds of grapes with 1 pound of chopped green apples (peels and cores included) and one sliced lemon (peel and seeds included) for about 20 minutes. That mixture is then strained through a jelly bag before proceeding.
Apple cores, lemon rind, and lemon peel are all high in pectin and basically, add pectin without actually adding a box of pectin. Still, even then it still helps if some of your fruit is underripe.
The strained juice is then cooked with sugar (3/4 cup per cup of juice) until it reaches gel stage. That’s 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. I did it…and it still had a very runny set.
If you happen to have grapes that naturally have a higher pectin content, as in, your grandma’s been making grape jelly without pectin for years, congratulations!
But for the rest of us, I’d suggest using boxed pectin to make grape jelly.
Canning Grape Jelly
It’s perfectly fine to make a refrigerator jelly, and simply allow the jars to cool on the counter before storing in the refrigerator. The refrigerator grape jelly should keep for about 3-4 weeks.
A freezer jelly will last a bit longer, extending the shelf life to about 6 months.
Canning grape jelly, on the other hand, means you have a shelf-stable preserve that will last unopened in the pantry for 12 to 18 months. That means you can enjoy grape jelly any day of the year.
To can grape jelly, make it as you otherwise would, but be sure to ladle into approve canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Screw on 2 part canning lids and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. For altitudes above 1,000 feet, add an additional minute for every 1,000 feet in elevation. For example, at 6,000 feet in elevation, you’d process grape jelly for 15 minutes.
If you’re new to canning, I’d suggest reading this beginner’s guide to water bath canning before getting starting.
Ways to Preserve Grapes
Looking for more ways to preserve grapes this season?
Homemade grape jelly is as easy to make homemade preserve that's perfect on toast (or in sandwiches). Use fresh grapes or prepared grape juice.
- 4 cups grape juice (from 3 1/2 pounds grapes)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 box (1.75 oz) Powdered Pectin (such as Sure-Jell)
Juicing Grapes for Jelly
- To extract grape juice, stem the grapes into a stockpot or saucepan and add 1/2 cup water.
- Bring the mixture to a boil while mashing the grapes to encourage them to release their juice. Continue to cook until the grapes completely fall apart, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and strain through a jelly bag or double layer or cheesecloth. Allow the juice to strain for at least 2 hours.
- Refrigerate the juice overnight to allow tartrate crystals to separate out.
- Strain the cold juice through the cheesecloth again. Pour carefully, and leave the tartrate crystal sediment behind at the bottom of the jar. Not all grapes form visible tartrate crystals, but this is a good precaution anyway and will prevent crystals in the finished grape jelly.
- If you're starting with purchased grape juice, skip these steps and begin below.
Making Grape Jelly
- Add 4 cups of grape juice to a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, ensuring that the fills the pot no more than 1/3 of the way (mixture will foam). Add the powdered pectin and stir to dissolve. (Don't add the sugar yet.)
- Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and boil 1 minute.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Bring the mixture back to a hard boil and boil 1 minute before turning off the heat.
- Ladle the grape jelly into prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Store in the refrigerator for a refrigerator jam and use within 3-4 weeks.
- If canning, process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes if under 1,000 feet in elevation. Add 1 minute to the processing time for every additional 1,000 feet.
- Check jar seals after 24 hours, and store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator for immediate use. Properly canned and sealed jars should maintain quality on the pantry shelf for 12-18 months.
Low Sugar Grape Jelly - For a low sugar grape jelly, substitute low sugar pectin and reduce the sugar to your tastes. I'd suggest using somewhere between 1/2 cup and 3 1/2 cups.
Grape Jelly with Liquid Pectin - If using liquid pectin, increase the sugar to 7 cups (with 4 cups grape juice). Ingredients are added in the opposite order, and you'll start by bringing the grape juice and sugar to a boil for 1 minute before adding the liquid pectin. Boil for another minute and then ladle into jars.
Tartrate Crystals - Grapes naturally contain tartaric acid, which precipitates out as tartrate crystals when cooked then refrigerated. If you're extracting grape juice, I'd always suggest refrigerating the juice for 24 hours after extracting. Most the crystals will sink to the bottom, so carefully decant the juice through a fine-mesh cloth, taking care to leave the sediment at the bottom. Not all grapes produce visible tartrate crystals, but it's still a good idea to filter the refrigerated juice just to be sure.
Easy Jelly Recipes
Hoping to keep that jelly pot cooking?
Summer Canning Recipes
Preserving more than just grapes this summer?