Lesson Learned From a Failed Batch of Grape Jelly

PS Grape 1

This article was supposed to be about the wonders of making homemade grape jelly. It was a perfect summer for growing grapes here in New England – dry and sunny – and it’s finally time to harvest them. My neighbor’s grapes are plump and sweet, so I took him up on the offer to pick a few bunches from his vines. I’d never made grape jelly before, and I knew it would be a challenge, but challenges build skills, patience, and good stories.

Like I said, this article was supposed to explain the process, which I learned myself along the way: from destemming the grapes to softening them into juice, from straining the juice through a cheesecloth to letting it sit overnight to separate out the sediment, from boiling it down with sugar until thick to funneling into canning jars that went through the entire canning prep process.

Start to finish, it was a lot of work, a messy job, and one that required reading directions carefully. My jelly should have turned out just as I was told. But to my shock and horror, when it was all said and done and too late to undo, my jelly was not so much jelly but a thick-as-molasses candy-like syrup. In canning terms, it was a complete fail. Within minutes it was so hardened in the jar that I couldn’t poke it with a knife. I thought by reheating it I could salvage it as a spread over that night’s pork dinner, but it was as good as garbage. To say the least, I was devastated. After all of that work, I was left with nothing but a pile of sticky dishes. I retraced my steps through the multi-page recipe, and can only conclude that I let the grapes boil down for a few minutes too long. A few minutes.

I wanted to be angry, but I had no one to be angry at. I wanted to be discouraged, but I knew that I’d want to try again next time. I wanted to be a sore loser, but I didn’t have time. Instead I looked at what I accomplished spread out across the kitchen sink, on the counter and stove, and smeared across my apron, and convinced myself that keeping a good attitude meant I would win this battle in the end.

Sometimes, we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes

We need to expect nothing, but be ready for anything. That lesson applies to my jelly-making experience. Just because we feel excited, have a game plan, and are prepared doesn’t matter. Things can go wrong, and you can’t dwell on expired expectations. Every once in a while, the lemonade we make from lemons is more sour than sweet; so, too, my first batch of jelly was not quite jelly.
It was a story, a lesson, and an attitude check in the end.

6 Comments

  1. steph: you should have gone for the better product. made wine instead of jam. even lousy wine can lighten your mood on a bad day. way to push the boundaries though.

  2. Aw, Steph, I’m sorry your grape jelly didn’t turn out! If I had a nickel for every time one of my cooking experiments went south, I could hire a cook and never fail at it again 😛 So you’re definitely not alone! At least you had a good attitude about it, and, might I add, your photos are gorgeous! Love how you laid them out, too.

  3. How frustrating, Steph! But those photos sure look like you were having fun at the time!! I love your comment “…convinced myself that keeping a good attitude meant I would win this battle in the end”. So true! Also very true that we can learn so much from our failures (not only about the failed project, but also about ourselves). Great post!

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