Today was a nice cool day for a drive in the country so I pointed the car towards the south of town. Everywhere I looked were grapevines on fences, alongside roads, growing up trees, and bushes. I got out and examined the vines in different locations, including some where I picked last year. There were unripe grapes on most of the vines. (There are male and female vines so not every vine will have fruit.) Although there are lots of grapes forming it does not appear that there is as many as last year. Our Texas drought is the likely culprit. None the less, there are more than enough grapes to make all the jelly you need from almost any fence line, river, stream, or at the edge of the woods. Even along the railroad tracks there are plenty of grapevines full of fruit. The fruit I am seeing is Mustang Grape but as there are 12 or so types of wild grapes in Texas there is one or more kinds from the regions of East Texas through to the Trans-Pecos mountains. The Mustang grape makes a nice cluster of purple-black fruit. I picked them last year with my surgical gloves so as not to irritate my skin with the leaves. If my freezer wasn’t full of grape juice and grape jelly I’d be out there picking again this year. The jelly is not at all like the grape jelly we buy at the grocery store. It is much tastier and prettier. I recently heard that people make a green grape pie using the unripe mustang grapes. I think I shall try that soon.
One comment, is that you need to be sure that you know what the vine and fruit should look like because there are other vines with dark colored fruit that aren’t edible. Examine the leaves and the flowers. Then compare them with the books or consult someone who is knowledgeable about plants.
Another plant that is filling out with fruit is the prickly pear cactus. The fruit, called tunas in Spanish, make a beautiful and memorable jelly. Now is the time to locate your patch of fruit. If the plant is loaded with fruit it doesn’t take many plants to find enough fruit for jelly. The prickly pear cactus is still flowering right now but there is already fruit developing. As a matter of fact I actually found several ripe fruit on one of the plants. That struck me a little unusual since it is still several months before the fruit should be ripe. Note the grapevine at the left of the cactus. When I harvest the tunas or fruit of the prickly pear I take along newspaper and my leather gloves. I use the newspaper to rub off any spines on the fruit. Some people use a torch but I have not found that necessary for harvesting or preparing the fruit.