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
- 4 lbs Concord, wild or other seeded purple grapes
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- pinch sea salt
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, use within 1 month.