I hate leafhoppers. I think they are the most annoying, nasty little bugs around. And they are all around my garden, but mainly on my three grape vines.
I planted the grapes almost three years ago now. At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea. I put them between my side fence and the three short raised beds in my garden area. They were supposed to grow up over the bed on the supporting posts I installed and offer shade during the hot summer months. I could just see it. Beautiful, leafy vines creating a solid green canopy with the occasional bunch of grapes dangling down for me to pick.
In reality what happened is the leafhoppers moved in. I actually think they were already here in our Mesquite trees because when you sit under them there’s this gentle, consistent shower of moisture. On one of her rare visits, my mother-in-law suggested the trees were giving off moisture to cool themselves down. I know better. It’s leafhopper pee. (Something I didn’t share with her because then she’d never come back.)
Each year, I battle leafhoppers with everything in my arsenal: Assassin bugs, dragonflies, Minute Pirate bugs. This year I added predatory wasps, little tiny ones. Everything works, but only for a while, then as the heat goes up the population of leafhoppers explodes. The only thing that really worked–diatomaceous earth–killed all the good bugs along with the bad, so that’s out.
This time of year each walk by the vines is a journey through a sea of tiny, pelting insect bodies.
Although the leafhoppers make the grape leaves look ragged and awful, they don’t seem to affect grape production. This year I must have had at least seventy bunches set on. And of course, they all ripen at exactly the same time. Which is how I came to have a kitchen full of flame grapes and no clue as to what to do with them.
The obvious would be grape jelly, so I pull out my favorite book, Preserving the Fruits of the Earth by Stanley and Elizabeth Schuler, and open it to the grape jelly page. I’ve never made grape jelly before, but I have done jalapeno and apple, and lemon marmalade, which I make by the case without pectin using a jelly recipe.
Because I’ve never made the stuff before, I’m going to start with a small batch. I measure out my 3.5 pounds of grapes (didn’t scratch the surface of this pile), pluck them off their stems, crush them and put them in cheesecloth to juice overnight. The next morning I’m so excited to find tartaric crystals in the juice. Wow, I can make my own cream of tartar now. Well, maybe not. I think I may need more than a finger full of crystals per batch to make enough for my baking powder.
I strain the juice again to remove the crystals, just like the recipe tells me to do. Then life happens and I end up on the run for the rest of the day. At 6 in the evening I finally return to measure out 3 cups of juice and add the suggested 3 cups of sugar to it. I put it on to cook and here’s where I go wrong. I ASSUME that it’s going to take as long as it takes my marmalade to condense and gel.
Four minutes later my mixture is at a full rolling boil (a sign that pectin is doing its thing). I put in the thermometer, check with my wooden spoon (it’s still loose but it’s all running down the spoon to a single drip point, a sign of gelling), go grab my three jars (whew! I have three 8 oz jars left!) and by the time I get back to the pot I have raisin flavored hard candy.
There’s a little pectin in these grapes.
I’ll try again after the weekend and after a little more research. Hmm, I’ve owned that book since 1972 and Stan and Liz have never before steered me wrong.