Catawba grape jelly


In my first summer at Vastrap I was thrilled to find we had an old Catawba grape-vine in the backyard. It made me think of my Nana, Sheila Fassler who had a large trellis covered in Catawba grapes at her home in Emmarentia in Johannesburg. I have such fond childhood memories of these grapes – funny the things that make an impression on a child. They made a huge mess on her front veranda, but I loved their distinct sweet, but slightly tart taste. We used to squish the flesh out of the black skins and discard them as we ate. Most of all, I loved the jelly that she made from the grape juice. It was such a treat, served with warm home-made custard!

I checked on the grapes this weekend and to my delight there were a few ripe bunches. On the spur of the moment I decided it was time to make jelly. There are only one or two opportunities to do this in a year and they absolutely can’t be missed!

Catawba and Hannepoort grape vines.

Catawba and Hanepoot grape vines.

Catawba grapes ripening on the vines.

Many people don’t know these grapes, because they are quite old-fashioned, but one often finds them growing over trellises in old houses. They are small, black grapes with a very distinct flavour. They aren’t used to make wine and they don’t make great table grapes because they have lots of pips and the skins are quite tough. Hence the idea of jelly!

Little grape harvest.

Little grape harvest.

Ready to make jelly.

Ready to make jelly.

If you ever happen to come across a box of these or find some growing on an old trellis in mid-summer I highly recommend you try this for a treat.

Sheila Fassler’s Catawba Grape Jelly

1 x small colander full of fresh Catawba grapes

3/4 cup sugar

10-15g Gelatine powder

Remove the grapes from their stalks and rinse clean. Discard the green ones. Place in a pot with the sugar. Slowly bring to the boil and leave to stew for a few minutes stirring occasionally to release the juices.

Pour the stewed grapes into a colander balanced over a bowl to catch the juice. Be patient while the juice drains off. Don’t squeeze the grapes too much because the pips can be bitter! Discard the grape skins and pips and strain the liquid through a fine sieve. At this point you can taste the juice to see if more sugar is needed. It should be tart, but not unpleasantly so. If the flavour is too strong you can dilute with a bit of water, but I like it as is.

The amount of grapes shown in the photo above yielded 700 ml of juice, but obviously it will vary depending on how many grapes you use and how ripe they are. Measure the quantity of juice you have and then follow the instructions on the gelatine box to make the jelly. You will need to split the mixture and dissolve the gelatine in some hot juice before adding the rest of the juice that has been cooled.

Pour into a large mould or individual moulds and refrigerate for a few hours. The jelly is a gorgeous deep purple colour and quite rich so you only need a small serving per person. Use a glass bowl to show off the colour to full effect. I got about 6 servings out of the 700 ml, but got distracted and forgot to take photos of the final product!

Serve with warm home-made custard or vanilla ice cream. Heart shaped moulds are great for a seasonal Valentine’s day treat!

22 thoughts on “Catawba grape jelly

  1. My granny had an enormous vine outside her kitchen and we would spend whole Sundays squishing the flesh out of the skins (only way to avoid the pips) and then sucking the skins to see if we could get any more juice out of them without actually eating them – the best part was the way the popped into your mouth 🙂


  2. Maris, you are truly becoming the ultimate ‘farm wife’ goddess – I turn green with envy at your stories of fresh picked produce straight into your beautiful farm kitchen. We are scheduling a visit this year – Ollie would love to see the combine harvester or baby animals, but I am thinking when is the best time to come and eat from your garden 🙂


  3. Help! I cooked the catawba grapes and strained them with a jelly strainer, but the juice is cloudy. What can I do? I love the flavor of the grape and thought this would be a good jelly. However, I do like a sparkling clear jelly to serve.


    • Hi Fay, I’m not sure what to suggest. The grapes make a very dark liquid. I usually strain the cooked grapes through a sieve and sometimes even through a muslin cloth. That might help to remove some of the foam and impurities. The liquid will be very dark. It is a delicious jelly with a very distinctive taste and must be served with custard or ice cream!


  4. Hi Marisa, we have just bought a catawba plant from Amalinda nursery in East London. We live in Stutterheim (75km inland from East London) and have planted it to grow over the pergola in front of the house, a very sunny position. Do you have any words of advice for us at this early stage. We are going as organic as possible and dug a large hole, put in a 10kg bag of compost, old cow manure and vegetable compost from the kitchen compost and also grass cuttings mixed with topsoil with more grass cuttings on top to mulch.


    • Hi Gill, sorry for the slow response. It sounds as if you have done everything you can to help your grapes to thrive. Good soil quality lots of compost and water are always key. I haven’t planted any catawba’s myself. The vines here at the farm are very old and to be honest we don’t do anything special to them. I’m not expecting much of a crop this year because it’s been so dry. Whatever we get will be a bonus! Good luck and enjoy!


  5. I have one plant that is over 30 years old and which is producing like mad. I have made jam with it to sell on our church bazaar.. The jam I made in 2 ways. firstly by using the grapes as it is and add 1kg fruit to 1 kg sugar and boil it till a cold sample of the syrup no longer runs freely and 2ndly first boiling the grapes to release the juice and press it through a pasta strainer to keep the pits and skin behind. I then take the juice add sugar in a ratio of 2:1 and boil it till a cold sample of the liquid no longer runs freely. I also just bottle the juice in glass bottles while boiling hot to keep it sterilized in bottle and drink it over a year as desired. Remember once the bottle is open it must be refrigerated. I also found that over time crystals form in the juice . This can be removed once more by stirring it through a strainer such as a tea strainer. This is hard work but much rewarding. i call this grape the poor mans grapes as it is so willing to produce plenty of grapes


    • Hi Schalk, thank you so much for sharing your love of catawba’s. As you can see from all the comments, this has been one of my most popular quotes as people seem to often look for ideas about what to do with these grapes. Many thanks for taking the time to write!


  6. I have just made my first jelly ever following this recipe with grapes from Mira Fassler-Kamstra’s vine here at her Port Alfred . I have a rather splendid photo of it which you may wish to add to this blog.


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