Kindness of Strangers

Just when I’d accepted I wouldn’t be making grape jelly this year, a neighbor I’ve never met stopped by and asked if I’d like to pick some of her grapes.


She’s at the peak of a bumper crop of Concords, growing on a vine she dates to the early 1900’s. Since she has lived in her house and tended her garden for 65 years (!), I’m going to take her word for it.

We picked and picked and didn’t make a bit of a dent, and then I came home and used my steam juicer to process the piles of grapes. The steam juicer is a fabulous invention. It’s pricey, so not worth it if you don’t process a lot of fruit, but if you do it saves a lot of time and effort. I can remember my parents making grape jelly when I was a kid, juice straining through cheesecloth, making a purple mess of everything nearby. I can’t say it inspired me to want to make any of my own. The juicer, in contrast, is neat and easy to use. It consists of three pots on top of each other. The bottom holds water, the middle juice, and the top whatever fruit you’re processing. As it steams, the juice flows through a tube from the second pot into whatever vessel you choose, or, if you’d rather, the tube can be clamped and the juice will remain in the pot. More fruit can be added as it shrinks down, so I was able to fit all of my grapes in the one pot. The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t run out of water in the bottom pot.

Now I’m ready to start making jelly with some of the 10+ quarts of juice the grapes yielded. The rest I’ll can for drinking, if it doesn’t all disappear from the fridge before I get to it.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Too many bees in a hive on a hot and humid summer day would mean a lot of energy wasted in fanning to try to keep things cool.


Instead, bees ‘beard’, sitting outside the entrance in large clumps. This year our grapevine grew in front of and above their entrance, and the bees seem to be enjoying the shade its giant leaves provide.

You might think we would learn from their behavior, but no. We spent this hot weekend in the kitchen, standing over boiling pots and even turning on the oven for some baking, a single fan moving the heat around but not providing much relief. I know when I pop a jar of preserves in the winter my memory of that heat will be tinged with longing for these long summer days, so I’m doing my best to enjoy every sticky moment.

Suburban Sprawl

This grape vine was a volunteer in my sister’s yard.


I think they’re Concord grapes, but I could be wrong. In a month or so they’ll turn a lovely purple, and grape jelly making will commence. Last year we only got enough juice for three small jars of jelly, but this year the vine is heavy with grapes. We planted it next to the deck where our beehive sits, and it sprawls across the deck in every direction. I really should learn more about pruning and training plants, but letting things grow with wild abandon seems to be written into my DNA.