In 2008, my recipe A Beginner's Guide to Making Jam or Jelly was first published. Back then, we thought our 7-pound harvest was amazing. Last year we had to prune back the vines to make way for new split rail fencing and voilà!...this season we harvested more than 13 pounds of red grapes - a bumper crop for us. We used a new recipe too, this time using half the amount of sugar. And yes, it gelled successfully! The secret is in the type of pectin.

We've come a long way from our first grape harvest of over 7 pounds to this year's harvest of over 13 pounds of seeded Vitis labrusca red grapes. For us, this was significant, and was our biggest harvest ever. The time to pick grapes varies and depends on the type of grape, weather conditions and the ripeness of the grapes. Harvest times can range anywhere from June through the end of the summer through fall. We kept a close watch on ours and tasted them along the way, until they reached the desired sweetness, but before they got too ripe and fell off the vines.

Never having tried wine making, we again opted for using the grapes in homemade organic grape jelly. Our biggest challenge, as always, would be sticking to the recipe to be sure the jelly would gel. I was determined to follow my original recipe and use powdered pectin as called for. When our local Acme market went out of business - they always had the best canning supplies in our area - I had to find another source for powdered pectin. The first store I went to only sold liquid pectin. Liquid pectin does work, but I was leery to use it because of its sodium benzoate content - a controversial food additive. I continued my search for powdered pectin and drove to Wegmans. There on a shelf sat Pomona's Universal PectinTM. I had always heard about it, but never had tried it. Now was the time.

Using a different type of pectin would change my original jelly recipe and go against my own advice:

Refrigerating Grape Juice overnight precipitates sediment and potassium acid tartrate crystals

Tip #1: Do Not Change the Recipe!

Having no choice but to concoct a new recipe, I read the recipes included in Pomona's box. With the help of their suggestions the reduced sugar version gelled successfully and tasted plenty sweet.

Make Jelly with less sugar

This recipe cuts the sugar of my original jelly recipe in half. The special pectin, extracted from citrus peel, gels fruit juice differently than liquid pectin or regular powdered (high methoxyl type) pectin and does not depend on a high amount of sugar to form a gel. Low methoxyl pectin can gel jelly made with low amounts of sweetener, because it is activated by calcium rather than sugar, leaving full flavor undiluted by large amounts of added sugar, which Pomona's claims right on their product packaging.

Reduced Sugar Grape Jelly Recipe

As with any recipe, gather up your equipment and ingredients before beginning. For a list of equipment you will need for making jelly and how to make the grape juice, refer to my article: Beginner's Guide to Making Jam and Jelly.

Not mentioned in my first article - and something you may want to consider - is that your fresh pressed grape juice may be better if you're able to make it a day ahead and store it overnight in the refrigerator. This will allow formation of naturally occurring potassium acid tartrate crystals, sometimes called wine diamonds by wine makers. A final straining of the juice poured from the top (sediment will fall to the bottom and crystals will stick to the sides of the container) will remove any crystal formation and sediment that may cloud your jelly.

Note: We didn't remove the crystals or sediment when we made our jelly batch, thinking that a lower pH would serve as a natural preservative from a food safety standpoint (crystals lower the pH) and that the sediment contained nutrients we didn't want to see wasted. According to the FDA, the crystals are generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

yields approximately 5 pints


8 cups fresh seeded and strained pure grape juice

4 cups sugar

1/2 cup lime juice

2 Tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons "low methoxyl" pectin powder

2 Tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons Calcium water (you will better understand how to make this with the directions and ingredients that come with Pomona's Pectin)

Putting it all together

1. Mix the lime juice into the strained grape juice

2. Add calcium water and stir well

3. In a separate bowl, mix together half the sugar with the pectin powder. Set aside the remaining sugar.

4. Bring the fruit juice mixture to a boil

5. Add pectin sugar mixture while whisking continuously to avoid lumps. Add the remaining sugar.

6. Stir vigorously for a few minutes to dissolve the pectin

7. Return to a boil, then remove from heat

8. Fill sterilized jelly jars leaving 1/4-inch headspace at the top

9. Put on washed 2-piece lids and process in boiling water canner 5-10 minutes

10. Let the jelly sit undisturbed overnight. Label and store in a cool, dry place. Jars can be decorated for garden gifts. Refrigerate after opening. Enjoy!

Pomona's Pectin is available at some grocery markets and health food stores, or can be ordered direct:

Photo Credits: All photographs Copyright ©2011 D.Wind. All rights reserved.

Related Links: Beginner's Guide to Making Jam or Jelly by Diana Wind

Grape tips, Recipes, Nutrition data

Dave's Garden Canning Discussion Forum available to subscribing members