Monday, October 01, 2012

Grape Jam

A couple of hours from our home in West Virginia we had some friends with a vineyard. We used to drive over there--four mountain ranges between us--to make grape juice with them every year. Imagine a wine crush party, but with calico aprons and no booze. Anyway, our friends didn't grow wine grapes, or even standard table grapes, but the splendid dusty blue Concords and their kin.

And these Concords, derived from the wild grapes of North America, are the source of the canonical grape flavor. It's the flavor of the jelly in the classic PB&J, the flavor of purple grape juice, the flavor half-heartedly attempted in purple candies and sodas--and yet, we hardly ever sit down and eat Concord grapes. Concord types are too pungent, seedy, and tannic. They're inconvenient. (My preferred way to eat them is to squeeze the grape out of its skin and into my mouth, spit out the seeds, eat the sweet center, then suck the sweetness out of the skin and swallow it whole before it gets too bitter.) These are not the grapes to feed empresses reclining on divans. You won't find them imported from Argentina in April. 

After we permanently moved down from West Virginia, across those four mountain ranges, I worked on our friends' farm for years. Picking grapes was by far the nicest work on the farm. Picture two teenage girls with ass-length braids, clipping grapes from lush arbors at twilight, singing stupid songs about drunken sailors. The bleached-out glare of summer was gone, leaving the sky vivid blue again, and there were new people to fall in love with at school.

The seasons are subtler here in San Francisco, and the summer-fall transition is particularly unrecognizable. So what a delight when a friend stopped by and left me some Concord-type grapes! I dug up this recipe for grape jam from my grandmother's taped-together copy of The Mennonite Community Cookbook. This sort of continuity is crucial when reenacting lost seasons. I did, however, ruthlessly cut the sugar, as I do for all old jam recipes. It's still very, very sweet.

Grape jam is far less common than grape jelly. Since grapes are so seedy, you have to strain them anyway, so lots of people just make jelly while they're at it. The difference is that grape jam gets pressed through a strainer or food mill, making it cloudy and dark, whereas jelly is allowed to slowly filter through a jelly bag, making it lovely and clear. But when you mash the pulp, you get a very robust flavor and a much better yield, plus I imagine those cloudy particles have some small nutritional value.

Grape Jam

Adapted from The Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Wash 4 pounds of Concord-type grapes and pick them from the stems. You should have about 2.5 quarts.

Put the grapes in a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add half a cup of water, cover, and bring to a simmer. Let the grapes cook until they're quite soft; something like 20-30 minutes.

Mash the grapes through a food mill. You should now have about six cups of grape pulp. Return the pulp to the pot and add three cups of sugar. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat and cook down until thick enough that the jam runs from the spoon in one stream, rather than individual drips. This could take 20-35 minutes, depending on the dimensions of your pot and the power of the burner.

Pour into hot sterilized jars and cover. You can keep the jam refrigerated for a long while, or properly can it (5 minutes in a boiling water bath) so it's shelf-stable.

Makes 4-5 cups of jam.

1 comment:

Jennifer Jo said...

"Picture two teenage girls with ass-length braids, clipping grapes from lush arbors at twilight, singing stupid songs about drunken sailors." You made me howl.