Appalachia Appalachian Food Gardening

Putting up Grapes in Choestoe

Today’s guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.


Both grape juice and grape jelly were two of the items we “put up” on our farm when I was growing up in the mountains. My Grandpa “Bud” Collins had a grape arbor. He had the Concord Grape vines staked to a “fare-you’well,” so that when one walked under the arbor and it was time for grape harvest, the luscious clusters of ripe grapes hung like purple gold from the vines with broad leaves that ran along the whole length and breadth of the scaffold.

As a child, I was allowed my own small bucket and a step stool on which to stand (having been warned in advance, “Be careful; don’t wiggle or you’ll fall off the stool!”). From the vantage point of the stool, I could just barely reach the clusters of grapes. My Aunts Ethel and Avery gave me instructions on how to reach to the end  of the cluster and gently pull off the whole bunch of grapes. I would soon have a bucket full and be so happy about my grape-picking accomplishment.

And then came something I really enjoyed:  Washing the cluster of grapes in clear pans of water. We didn’t have running water at that time on the farm, so we drew water from the deep well and had two pans in which we washed the grapes-two washings to insure they were really clean.

The next step was pulling the grapes from the cluster and making sure no stems were put into the pot where we would boil the grapes to make juice for canning or for making jelly. I wasn’t allowed to cook the grapes at an early age, but then my mother died when I was fourteen, I found myself of necessity in the role of “head cook and bottle washer” on our own family farm, about a mile away from my Aunts Ethel and Avery-who were always good about giving me advice on any cooking, canning or jelly-making challenges.

I can remember our putting the juice we were planning to use during the winter in green fruit jars, washed clean and sterilized, and sitting in a pan of hot water, with a towel in the bottom of the pan to keep the cans from rattling so against each other and breaking. When the hot juice was poured into the cans, the next step was attaching the sealer. When I was a child, we had a rubber ring and a mason jar top for the sealer lids. It was not until later that we got the current-type two-piece “lid and jar” for sealing cans. I can remember how beautiful-and enticing-the jars of grape juice looked sitting on the freshly-cleaned-out cellar shelves underneath the house. All summer long, as one thing and another “came in” (ripened) and was harvested from the garden or the field, we filled cans and more cans to provide us food for winter use. The grape juice was sort of like the proverbial “icing on the cake” -to have something refreshing to drink during the winter months ahead.

We made a “run” or two of jelly-a “run” being the amount we could make with a five-pound bag of sugar, and the juice measured cup for cup with equal cups of the strained grape juice that we did not can. We made the grape jelly before “Sure-Jell” was available to us in the country. It took a lot more boiling time to cook the sugar and juice, and it had to be tested by dropping a drip of it into a cup of cold water to test to see if it had “jelled.” I thought it was an amazing invention when Sure-Jell became available, during my teen years when I was in charge of the “Dyer Family” kitchen at our farm. I could make jelly in “jig” time compared to the long boil and frequent testing prior to Sure-Jell days. As an added thought, if we ran out of jelly, we could use the canned juice to make jelly, too.

Then the Fox Grape harvest came. It was a lot harder to gather these wild grapes, for someone adept at climbing trees along the banks of Town Creek where Fox Grapes grew had the privilege of being the gatherer. Usually it was my brother, always adept at “skinning” (climbing up) a tree. He would go with a bucket laced onto his person with a belt. He would soon get a whole bucketful of the tart grapes and descend to get another bucket to fill. Then we’d go home and begin the process-the same as with grapes from Grandpa Collin’s grape arbor-to process the juice and jelly from these wild, tart, not-so-purplish Fox Grapes.

It was a lot of work to gather and process these foodstuffs for winter use. But somehow, we had a way of making it all seem like fun. And the rewards were two-fold; First, the pride in seeing the finished canned products sitting neatly along cellar shelves. All of it, whether grape juice and jelly or other products from garden, field and woods, gave a sense of accomplishment, evidence of a job well done. When ladies of our community “visited around” from farmhouse to farmhouse, they all liked to show their visitors their canned winter store. And the second blessing came when we actually ate the products, sitting in a warm kitchen on a snowy winter day, with the bounty of our harvest and of our frugal work spread out in splendor on the Lazy-Susan table in that kitchen on the farm. Was it any wonder that “to say grace” was so customary then? We were thankful for our work, for the provision of our food needs, and for God’s bounty in giving us productive land on which crops grew and the hard-work ethic and determination to, like the industrious ant, lay up for the the days when these products would keep us healthy.

(I grew up in the Choestoe District, Union County, GA near Blairsville. We had farmland along the Nottely River and the creeks of Choestoe.)

by Ethelene Dyer Jones


I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s memories of putting up grapes as much as I did!


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  • Reply
    Brenda Schlosser
    June 13, 2018 at 11:45 pm

    There is nothing better than wild grape juice with dumplings. A wonderful Native American treat.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 8, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Tipper–The pie Tamela mentions in asking about use of the leftovers is known (at least to me) as a hull pie. A colander takes care of the seeds and I love this late summer/early fall delicacy. If you want to put her in touch with me I’ve got a recipe I’ll gladly share.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 7, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Ethelene’s words and memories always bring a smile and a feeling of rightness.

    Lee mentioned the fragrance of the grapes boiling. That is the memory which sticks closest to me as well – and not only in the kitchen but out next to the vine when the grapes were dead ripe. The one redeeming feature of kudzu is the grape-like smell of the blooms in late summer.

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    It wasn’t until we moved to Possum Creek that I put up grapes – we call them “mustang grapes” but they sound like your “fox grapes” (reference to Aesop’s fable?) They are the tart kind but they make a wonderful jelly! Although their seem to be two different kind of vines (one with a smooth edged leaf and one with a kind of lacey edged leaf) the grapes all look and taste the same and come in at the same time. Prior to moving here, I either helped as a child or did it on my own as a young adult, putting up tomatoes, beans, and corn; we usually froze bell peppers once we got a freezer. Used then – and still do – all the terminology in Ethelene’s story. As usual, she tells the “ordinary” so beautifully if makes you feel like you’re right there along with her as well as stirring up lots of personal memories of Mom, Grandma, and Granny bustling about the kitchen during canning time – talk about nostalgia!

    afterthought: Have you or any of your readers made grape mash cobbler with the leftover skins after making juice and jelly? I have a recipe but haven’t tried it yet. Recipe says to leave the seeds in but that sounds downright unpleasant. . . .

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    June 7, 2018 at 11:29 am

    A wonderful story! I don’t remember us ever having grapes as a child but Granny always had an orchard and we always picked wild blackberries and plums. I ate so much apple jelly during the making that I got sick–never really liked apple jelly again!

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    June 7, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I remember a lot of “putting up” when I was growing up. It seems like my parents always had a garden and we certainly enjoyed the bounty when everything in its time “came in.” It was a delight to read her story and see the words “fare-you-well.” It has been many, many years since I have heard those words.

    When my parents retired and moved back to MS, they had a grape arbor. They grew the old native Scuppernong grape and made jelly from it. (All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs. ) The Scuppernong grapes they grew were a very light green and huge in size, and I must say I enjoyed the jelly slathered over my Mother’s biscuits.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 7, 2018 at 10:49 am

    And thanks Ethelene for a wonderful remembrance read. I would have starved in the Wintertime if it hadn’t been for Daddy making Jelly. He’d take a glass of Cold Water, keep it close by and drop bits of Grape Jelly to see when it would make. Mama knew how to make Jelly too, but daddy was afraid she’d fall. She had a stroke when I was little and it left her paralyzed on her left side. But she never complained, thanked God often for letting her raise 6 sons. …Ken

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Ethelene weaves a rich tapestry!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 9:34 am

    I’m sure glad Mrs. Jones was adamant about sterilization of the jars and the careful application of the lids and rings. Heaven forbid that you get careless, let a few wild yeast cells survive the purification process and end up with a half gallon jar of WINE!
    We also had jams, jellies and preserves from a multitude of fruits and berries. My mother also juiced and jarred all the grapes she could get her hands on. She was especially meticulous with one batch of grape juice she canned every year. She was in charge of making the wine for the Lord’s Supper service at the church. However, since our church was absolutely opposed to alcohol consumption in any form, she took every effort to ascertain its innocence. She couldn’t fathom the notion that the grape juice that was given as a remembrance of Christs blood might actually be the wine it represented.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 7, 2018 at 8:14 am

    I remember one night when we were coon hunting at the mouth of Laurel Creek in McCreary County, Ky. My Dad said we were at the old Hal Bryant fields. Grapes were ripe and there was a vine in a tree that was perfuming the air all around. They were the best grapes. I have had them one other time and seen the vine in one other location. The leaves are distinctive, very white underneath but also with a gingery red fuzz along the veins. I think it was some kind of old-fashioned grape that is no longer grown commercially. Too bad. When the grapes are ripe you them can smell them probably at least 200 feet away.

    When I think of wild grapes I think of how they were most fruitful along the gravel roads but they were also covered in dust. Not that us kids bothered much about that.

    Like Mr. Casada I noted with a smile the Appalachianisms in the story. Sure do have the ring of authenticity.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 7, 2018 at 7:55 am

    I can almost smell the grapes cooking. I’ve made grape lots of grape jelly but not recently. Grape is the best of all the jellies I’ve made. It has such a sweet rich smell and beautiful deep purple color, oh, and the amazing sweet flavor with just a tiny hint of tartness. Oh goodness, wish I had some for breakfast today!
    Thank you Ethylene, for the memories! There is nothing so fulfilling as putting up your own food and to see those beautiful purple warm jars sitting on the table when the job is done!

  • Reply
    Sue Stormoen
    June 7, 2018 at 7:26 am

    What a lovely, delightful read. Creates a longing for the past. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 7, 2018 at 6:47 am

    Tipper–Ethelene has given us some wonderful stuff, or at least that is the case for me. She evokes winsome memories from my own youth. both Momma and Grandma Minnie canned Concord grape juice and jelly, while my Aunt Emma made wonderful fox grape jelly. Talk about giving a biscuit a college education!
    As much as the warm recollections though, i delighted in her use of terms seldom encountered in today’s world–a “run” of jelly, “putting up” produced, “skinning” up trees, various fruits and vegetables “coming in,” and the like. Thanks for a gratifying trip into yesteryear.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 6:38 am

    Could almost smell the fragrance of the grapes boiling down. I remember it well, cooked grapes draining in cheesecloth hanging in Grannys kitchen.
    Do you suppose all that cooking removes ALL the vitamins from the fruit?
    Doesn’t matter one bit!
    One more time; thank goodness for refrigeration and electricity!!

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 6:22 am

    Putting up Jams and Jellies was a must or I felt as a kid was a must, we ate a lot of jelly during the year, and Mama always seen to it we were supplied. You gotta have biscuits with jelly and jelly goes with biscuits , can’t have one without the other, and biscuits were always on the table especially at breakfast time growing up.

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