Tartilicious Concord Grape Jam

I came back from Maine with 13 pounds of Tai’s grandmother’s homegrown grapes, a Concord varietal that are amazingly delicious. So I’ve been busy this week with various batches of grape jam, jelly and syrup. I wish I could share with you the smell of the house as these grapes cook down into jammy goodness: delicious hardly does it justice. Delectable, delightful, swoonworthy. All of the above.

This jam is as simple as it gets: grapes and a little bit of sugar. Note that I said “a little bit” of sugar. I wanted to capture the pure essence of the grape flavor, sweet and tart, hence I cut the sugar way, way down from the standard grape jam recipe. The resulting jam is treat for all the senses: a gorgeous, deep, dark purple color, a fragrance that forces you to close your eyes and savor when you open the jar, and a taste that literally explodes with pure grape flavor.  Because there is no added pectin, nor much in the way of sugar, the set of this jam is entirely dependent on cooking time: the first batch I made I cooked a little bit too long and the set was a bit firm for my liking; the second batch I cooked less and it ended up a bit soft. Both batches are still delicious, but pay careful attention to testing for set while making this one (neither of my batches reached 220 degrees F, likely due to the low sugar and/or pectin content).

Peeling the grapes for this recipe is absolutely essential: you need the tartness of the grape skins to contribute to the flavor, and the meatiness of the skins to contribute to the texture.  I was dreading the process, but was quite pleasantly surprised: peeling a Concord grape is nothing like trying to peel a regular green or red supermarket grape. You really do just lightly pinch the grape and the ‘innards’ pop right out.  It took very little time at all (I found the whole process much easier than peeling peaches or tomatoes) and the resulting flavor and texture can’t be beat. Also, unlike peeling peaches or tomatoes, you can do it sitting on the back deck with a glass of wine! Peeled grape jam, FTW.

Adapted from Classic Grape Jam in Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton

———————————————————–

Tartilicious Concord Grape Jam

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 lbs Concord, wild or other seeded purple grapes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup raw sugar (organic turbinado)
  • pinch sea salt

METHODS

  1. Rinse grapes, stem them, then rinse again (especially if yours are wild or homegrown and covered in sandy Downeast soil, spider webs and slugs like mine).  Peel grapes by pinching each one (at the end opposite to the stem end is easiest) and allowing the grape innards to plop out into a medium (4-quart) stockpot or Dutch oven (this is far easier than it sounds; 3 lbs of grapes took me a leisurely 15 minutes to peel). Keep the grape skins in a separate bowl.
  2. Bring the grape innards and any juice to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer until grapes begin to disintegrate, releasing seeds, about 10 minutes. Pour into the bowl of a food mill. Rinse the stockpot, add grape skins and 1/2 cup water, and bring water to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer grape skins, partially covered, until soft and breaking down, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, pass grape innards through the food mill; discard grape seeds.  Add grape pulp, sugar and salt to the grape skins. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then continue to cook at a brisk boil (lowering heat if jam begins to stick) until the gel stage (mine never reached 220 degrees F; I stopped it at 216 degrees when it formed a wrinkly set on a frozen plate).
  4. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace. Pass a wooden utensil along the sides of the jars to remove any bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about 5 cups.

OPTIONS

  1. You could make this jam entirely local with the use of honey or maple syrup as a sweetener; if so, you may want to add a little pectin to firm up the texture and help the set.
  2. This jam is quite low-sugar compared to traditional recipes; the Ball Book recipe for “old-fashioned grape jam” calls for 6 cups of sugar to about 2 pounds of grapes; the Put ‘em Up! recipe calls for 4 cups of sugar to 2 lbs grapes.  If you like a sweeter jam, feel free to increase the sugar. If you want it even more tart, you could decrease the sugar to 1/2 cup; I would recommend keeping some in there, as it will help the body, set and preservation of your jam.

STORE

Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.

SEASON

Fall.

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58 comments

    • Joe

      I already have my grapes squashed into juice how much juice would i use for this recipe. ie 4 lbs of grapes is equal to??? juice.

      • Joe,

        I’m not really sure, but if what you have is actual juice (i.e. little to no pulp remaining) than you’ll be making a jelly: start out with 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of juice, and increase to 1 cup sugar:1 cup juice if necessary to achieve a set.

  1. wow!!! it looks delicious! there is a whole mess of wild grapes strangling an old pear tree at my place in the berkshires. i have been itching to get back up there (tomorrow!) to see how i can get at them – the bulk is waaaay up high. they are tiny tho, so peeling is unthinkable.

    i have to say i think i drool over my computer the most when reading your posts!

  2. Tigress,

    If you do harvest some, do me this favor, and just peel ONE. I’m telling you, if it is as easy as these Concords were, it is cake.

    We have 2 old apples trees in the yard, and on one of them, the apples are about 50 feet of the ground. There aren’t even any good climbing branches; just straight trunk, then apples.. way, way up there. MOCKING ME.

  3. @tigress
    We have some wild grapes here and there (I live in central CT). Taste one before you go and harvest a bunch. The small ones we have are NOT tasty (esp compared to a Concord) and are basically all seed.

  4. My parents’ grape vines we loaded this year so I made grape jam, and you make peeling grapes sound so wonderful. It took my dad and I (and my little brother for some of it) 2 HOURS to peel all them grapes. I boiled the skins for a while, but they still seemed tough, so I pressed them through a foodmill then got rid of them and used the juice/pulp that they left me with. It gave me the color and grape flavor without the tough skin bits. Perhaps I didn’t cook them long enough and that’s why they were tough.

  5. Kaytee,

    Maybe it was a different kind of grape? I was honestly completely surprised by how easy these were to peel; usually the “just slip the skins right off” instruction in every recipe – from blanched peaches to charred peppers – never works for me.

    Granted, if the grapes you have are a total pain to peel, I’d go the jelly route; boil the grapes whole until they crack and start to break down, then food mill the whole lot. You still gets lots of flavor & color, just not quite the same amount of tartness, and not the same meaty texture as the jam (of course, if the skins are tough/bitter/etc you probably don’t want them anyway!).

  6. Mine were super easy to peel, just like yours. We just had THAT many grapes! Mine also looked just like yours. Maybe next year I’ll boil the skins longer and see if they break down any more.

  7. Wow – that is quite the haul then! It may have been that you didn’t cook the grape skins long enough; I found it was kind of like making jam; one minute they were intact, kind of leathery skins, next minute they were soft (delicious) mush. You just have to wait for the right minute!

  8. Ozarkhomesteader

    Your blog popped up on my blog dashboard, thanks to WordPress’s placement of a link to my grape jelly-jam adventures in the related content area. I’m so glad it did! Now I’m craving pumpkin granola.

  9. cindy and julia – i tasted them and i think they taste great. A little sour but i kinda like that. they are so far up tho i think jelly may not be in their future.

    kaela – i have the same issue with an apple tree. :( it’s laughing i ell you!

  10. Susan

    I have had the picture of your grape jam in my mind for some time now and finally found some grapes. Bought 2 pounds and made a small batch today. It taste tartilidelish! Next year I will make sure I get concord grapes when they are in season and make more jam. Thank you for sharing and I love your blog….beautiful photos too!

  11. I just made a half-batch of this with green concords, and sweetened with 1/4 C sugar and 1/4 C agave syrup. I didn’t reduce the amount of agave, even though it’s sweeter than sugar, because the green grapes seemed less sweet than the purple ones (which will be the next batch). Well, the jam is yummy but it came out too sweet. Less sugar in batch B.

  12. I seem to remember seeing green concord grapes last week at the farmer’s market. Is that possible? Have you ever tried a jam with those? Just thinking ahead to this Saturday…

    • Green as in a green Concord varietal (does such a thing exist?) or green as in underripe? Now that you mention it, I seem to remember seeing a green Concord recipe recently, but I’m not sure if they simply meant unripe grapes, and now I can’t find it.

      Anyone?

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    • Alicia-

      You can easily use demerara, other raw sugars, or indeed any granulated sugar, including brown sugar in this recipe. They all have very slight differences in taste, sweetness and amount of water, which can slightly affect the set and/or cooking time, but any will work.

  15. Bren

    So what is a person to do if they don’t own a food mill?? I didnt know a food mill was a requirement for grape jam, an alternative way would be nice to know.

    • Bren,

      A food mill is not a requirement for making grape jam. What is a requirement on this site, however, is common courtesy when you are asking a question. Please and thank you go a long way.

      Kaela

    • Lynn

      Bren,
      You can use a fine mesh strainer and a rubber spatula. That’s what I used today to get the seeds out of the pulp. I did it in small batches but I didn’t throw out the seeds just yet. Some pulp was still on the strainer, so after I finished all the batches, I put all the seeds back together in a bowl with a little water, swirled it around to get all the pulp loose, then put it through the strainer again. At that point you can throw the seeds away or put them in the compost bucket.

  16. Lauren

    I do not have a food mill. What alternatives would suggest? I tried making a batch of your recipes tonight and I tried like the dickens to get all of the grape pulp to go trough a very tiny strainer that I have. It kept the seed out, but also some of the pulp, any suggestions you may have would be appreciated. Also I find that the skin from these Concords is not breaking down, did you have this issue? Thank you for posting this recipe, chunks of skin and all I’m looking forward to trying!! :)

    • Without a food mill, my only suggestions are to do as you have done, push the pulp through a sieve; if too much of the pulp is being held back, you could try cooking it a little longer, and/or using a larger gauge sieve.

      As for the skins, you are correct, they do not break down completely; but this is a good thing and lends texture to the final jam. If you want a perfectly smooth texture, you might try blending the skins in a food processor or with an immersion blender.

          • Bren

            I ended up doubling over unbleached cheesecloth and putting all of the stuff that wouldnt go through my seive in there, then SQUEEZING it, wringing it, etc. Sometimes a seed would pop through but it always stuck to the cheesecloth on the outside so just pull it off. After you get all you can out of it, you can cook whats left again and put it through the cheesecloth again.

      • Lauren

        Thank you! I tried it today and it very good. I will try blending in the food processor next time! Delicious! Thanks again!

  17. Lauren

    Sad day for me and my concord jam. I put up about 24 jars a month ago, and went to check on a jar today. Opened it up – and wouldn’t you know it – tartrate crystals had formed. I’m really hoping someone can suggest a remedy to save all of this beautiful jam. I’m dubious that reprocessing (ie. cooking for a longer period, reprocessing) could help – what do you think? Also, is there any concern with reprocessing if they have been sitting for a month? The seal on all the jars was fine.
    No need for info on WHY they formed, I get that, I just need advice on how to fix this problem. I really love this jam and want to save it – the flavor is amazing, but totally not enjoyable to be crunching on crystals.
    Help.

    • You know, I hadn’t heard that this is a problem with grape jam; it’s never happened to me before, but a little Googling shows me that it is a known issue with grape jelly. Not sure what to tell you, as you can’t exactly strain a jam through a double-layer of muslin. I would say that attempting re-processing can’t hurt, but let me toss the question out to the Facebook crowd and see if anyone is in the know.

      • Lauren

        Thanks Kaela. It is the first time it has happened to me, and actually the first time I have had a weird reaction in any of my jars post processing and storing. The recipe I used is somewhere between the one posted above, and one by Linda Ziedrich – similar processes for the most part, in that neither recipe calls for juicing the grapes, and letting the juice rest 24-48 hrs. Practically every other recipe that I have found has called for juicing the grapes – not something my gut tells me is right (where does all the awesome pulp go?!)
        Anyway. Any help is so appreciated. I’m going to try to reprocess tonight, and see what happens. I’ve seen a couple comments suggesting adding corn syrup (no) or acid (okay, but doubt it would help).
        Also should mention that I am a long time lurker and fan of your blog and recipes. You are awesome. Your recipes are great. Let’s be penpals.

        • Thanks, Lauren. All of the advice I am seeing re: tartrate crystals relates to grape JELLY, not grape jam, so it’s a bit difficult to tell what to do. There is some discussion over on the FB page if you want to check it out: http://www.facebook.com/localkitchenblog/posts/384727468262084?notif_t=like

          I would probably do the same: pop the jars, heat the jam to try to dissolve the crystals and re-process. Can’t hurt, right? I could see where adding acid might help: the only difference between my recipe here and the original in Put ‘Em Up was a 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Maybe that’s the magic bullet for lack of crystallization?

            • Lauren

              Hey all – back with an update weeks later. I recooked the jams, added about 1/4 cup of lemon juice, reprocessed. Result: significant improvement, but very subtle crystals remain. I’m not sure anyone who is not a jam freak would notice, but I do. Such a bummer because the concord season around here is literally 2 weeks.

              Now can I steer this thread in another direction? I’m looking for a variation on the Ball Book of Home Preserving Cranberry Conserve. Recipe is as follows:

              1 orange, finely chopped
              2 cups water
              4 cups cranberries
              1/2 cup raisins
              3 cups sugar
              1/2 cup chopped nuts

              I have made it a couple of times now, and it sets wayyyy too firm for my liking. I am a real soft-set girl. I have done a boozy edition of it; re-hydrating the raisins in dark rum, toasting walnuts, adding a generous glug (1/4 cup?) at the end of cooking. It still sets up so firm.
              My question is this: what is the factor in the recipe that determines how firm the set is? (I know, pectin, sugar, acid – but specifically) Is it the sugar content that needs tinkering? What if I added more liquid, like an orange juice? Water? When I make lemon marm, there is so much water that goes into it – this recipe seems short. My inclination is that I need to cut the high acid/high pectin cranberry with another fruit.
              Also as a sidebar – does adding water compromise pH levels, or no, since it gets cooked off anyway?

              Anyway. Would love direction on this, gang.
              xo

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  20. Alright, so I’ve been scouring the web for grape jam recipes and most of them say to take the skins off, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why… even you say that “peeling the grapes for this recipe is absolutely essential” but you don’t actually explain why! Then I realized my variety has no seeds, and now I am guessing that the reason you peel the grapes is because if you have seeds, how else are you going to de-seed without mashing up the seeds and peels together during the process? Am I right? Or is there some other mysterious reason why I have to peel em? Well anyway, I’m glad to have the peeling support, because the pinot grapes are next!

    • #AceFoodNews – Thought this may be useful about your comment reference peeling grapes! It mentions – The thing that caught my attention about this recipe was that it used the grape skin too for making the Jam. Also there is no pectin or water added to it. Its downright minimal as far as the ingredients go. Just grapes and sugar!. Also the sugar is warmed in the oven in order to prevent the jam from cooling when it is added.

      http://chefinyou.com/2011/10/concord-grapes-jam/

  21. Linda Martin

    Last fall I made the concord grape jam & my husband loved it. I weighed, bagged & froze 10lbs concord grapes. Last weekend I took the grapes thawd them and made more jam. My first mistake was not peeling them before freezing! I used 10lbs grapes, 1 1/4 c water, & 2 1/2 c sugar. I did sterilize jars, lids etc. I got the jam to 215F and filled jars. It seemed a bit liquidy but figured it would thicken when cold. The taste is right but it’s not thick like the first time I made it. I would like to get the proper consistency but am not sure how to do that without ruining the jam. I got 7 3/4 jars and my husband has eaten the 3/4 jar. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated

  22. Zoinks! I had 3.5 lbs of local green grapes. Followed the recipe, reducing sugar to 3/4 cup, water to 1/3 cup, and added zest and juice of half an orange. Ended up with two half-pints of jam. Does that seem right? So much for yeild…jeez. ;-)

    • Concord varietals are particularly meaty grapes; most green grapes have much more water/less flesh, so I’m not surprised at the low yield. There’s a reason, I guess, that you don’t see a lot of green grape jam. :) One good thing is that grapes are high in pectin, so they can be easily combined with a low-pectin fruit (like, say raspberries) to make a jam without the need for commercial pectin or lots of sugar.

  23. Christine McCrohan

    How long did you cook this for? Mine has been boiling for 40 mins, reached 220, but did not reach the gel stage doing the trick with the frozen plate.

  24. Monica

    Mine never even reached 216 F. I boiled it until it thickened, and only got three 8 ounce jars of jam. Delicious it was ;) I tried it a second time using pectin and this did not work- too watery. Help. How much pectin for 5 cups of jam??

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