Monday, October 30, 2006

Grape Jammin'


Few things are as easy as making grape jam. Truly. You've heard the adage "as easy as pie," an old saying I could easily argue against from my own experience. Jam is not only simple to make but a long way from the annoyance of the fuss and extra steps of jelly bags. If you have a good pot and a countertop and a ready supply of grapes, you can make jam. But be warned, I didn't say making jam is not without a certain degree of mess but once you get organized, the process develops its own smooth rhythm. However, the unbelievable sensory experience of color, fragrance, and taste ~ as well as the satisfaction of lining a cupboard with jars of jam for gift-giving and family use ~ will make you glad for any bother. Kids will enjoy helping too ~ ours couldn't wait to be involved in each step. Everyone seems to love jam and remember that even Tom Sawyer had to whitewash his Aunt Polly's fence because he'd been caught eating jam in her pantry.



Several years ago our friend Bill told us that you couldn't make grape jam (he and his wife were prolific jelly makers). It was a challenge I was happy to take. My husband, several years before we married, installed a grape arbor along two sides of our barn. He constructed it with slender granite posts that he cut himself and cross-pieces of wood above. It is a work of art. At first he planted a variety of New York grapes which proved too fickle in New England winters. He replaced them with the Concord, a reliant and hardy stalwart and true native fruit (along with the cranberry and blueberry ~ both equally easy to transform into luscious jam or conserve).



For several years we have not had many grapes due to damp summers, improper ventilation or whatever the reason. Last year my husband cut the vines back rigorously and this year we are enjoying the fruits of his labor. Bushels and bushels of them. There are probably still a few left on the vines but we are truly graped-out. We gave some away and still we had three big 5-gallon buckets full for ourselves. I made two into grape jam and had hoped to make a third but between being sick, having my pantry book galleys back to review and attend to (more about those later), there just wasn't enough time. This is my first major grape-making attempt in almost ten years when we last had a great grape year (a few since but often not able to find the time so we have given them to our Shaker friends in Sabbathday Lake, Maine or let others come pick).



The trick of any jam is to make it in small batches. Grapes have natural pectin and you can utilize that to its best advantage if you don't cook too much at once. I've learned from experience that as tempting as it is to quadruple your efforts into a large stock pot, it is best to go no more than double on a recipe. I've found my small blue Le Creuset is the perfect size for a double batch and contributes to a a good thick blend. Have your kids help with the mouly-ing! [My husband is an expert picker and de-stemmer, too.]



4 cups grapes (free of stems--no need to wash them if you don't spray)
3 cups sugar

Mix grapes and sugar in a sturdy stockpot. Bring to a boil on medium heat while stirring occasionally (make sure there are no pockets of sugar to stick to the bottom). Once boiling, turn down to low and cook for 20 minutes. Pour grape mixture into mouly and work through into a clean pot (the blade will turn and push at the same time). Mouly the mixture until pulp is pressed through: you will be left with a lovely and sticky goop of seeds and skin. Discard. Stir the thickened jam (the consistency of a heavy syrup or molasses) and pour into clean and sterilized jars (a dishwasher works great for this). Can in hot boiling water bath for 15-20 minutes according to canning instructions. One batch makes about 3 1/2 cups and the jam will thicken up as it cools.

The rich, full grapey taste will be like nothing you've ever had from the store. You see, easy as jam! Now, to better learn that pie crust so I can make a grape pie...another delight (but one that involves de-seeding the little pulpy things). Maybe next year.


Heather said...

Reading your profile...I would LOVE to live your life! I love New England...I would visit my dad in Marblehead, MASS during the summer when I was young! A small town...and a farm would be wonderful. Maybe when my husband retires from the Air Force we will be able to find something like that!

Here from the Crazy Hip Blog Mamas...just blog browsing!

Andrew said...

Wow, have I been living in a cave or something? I like jam much better than jelly, and I always have raspberry and strawberry jam in the house (unfortunately not homemade) but I have never heard of grape jam -- only grape jelly. That sounds wonderful!

To Love, Honor and Dismay

xmfClick said...

Hi Cathy,

Tsenka and I were trying our hand at bottling garden produce this autumn (OK, "fall"), but we are both total novices and weren't sure about the jar-sterilising and related stuff. Could you explain the theory and practice?

- Rolf

Anonymous said...

I am stopping by to invite you to participate in the The Carnival of Home Preserving.

It is a Carnival to Share Recipes and How-To's for Canning, Freezing, Dehydrating (drying), and Root Cellaring of Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs.

The first edition is posted if you would like to come visit:

Carnival of Home Preserving - July 14, 2008 Edition

and the second edition

Submit your blog post (new or one of your archived ones that meets the above description) to the next edition of carnival of home preserving using the carnival submission form.

The Deadline to Submit is every Sunday 6pm EST

The Carnival posted by that Monday on the respective Host's blog.

Everyone is welcome to join in (beginners and experienced alike).


Anonymous said...

Thank you soooo much you are right it isn't difficult and it is a wonderful aroma. This was my first time and I look forward seeing other postings. I moved to the mountains in NC from Las Vegas and have a beautiful large garden and I need all the help I can get. Tying to be more self suffient. Thank you thankyou again!!!Lori

Queen Sarapatra said...

I tried your easy jam recipe with my concord grapes and while it tastes great, it turned out a little is more like a yummy grape syrup. I wondered if maybe I needed to boil it longer? Any suggestions for getting it thicker?

Catherine said...

Hi there and welcome.

Rolf, did I ever answer your jar-sterilizing questions? Eek, I fear it was before we moved to KY.

And Queen Sarapatra, did you keep the grape skins on while boiling the jam? I put the cooked mixture through a food mill (eg. Foley) afterwards to remove seeds and remaining pulp. The pulp is what thickens it. Also I need to check my fruit to jam ratio again as I've had the same problem, too, but usually when I've tried to reduce the sugar used (you can't).

My Mennonite friends tell me that another problem when jam doesn't thicken is because cane sugar (not beet sugar) must be used. If a bag just says "Sugar" it is generally beet. I don't know if this is true or not but they do a lot of canning.

Meanwhile, they will also use things like Dutch Clear Gel to help thicken their jams, jellies and sauces but I like to use pure fruit and sugar only.

Good luck and let me know how this goes for you!


Catherine said...

And another thought: don't ever be tempted to double your jam batches. For some reason, even if the sugar to fruit ratio is accurate, it can water down the final product.

I did this once and had grape syrup! Also, this summer I made my first blackberry jam and got nice blackberry syrup (so I'll use it in baking or for pancakes). That's when I heard that you have to use "cane sugar"...

Best, Catherine

Charlotte said...

I have just finished working up about 15 gallons of grapes not thinking that I would have to add the sugar to this process. What I have always done is cook the grapes to release the skins, push through the sieve? and then process again with pectin and sugar. Would I still use the same ratio?

Catherine said...

Hi Charlotte, I just got your incoming email and thought I'd respond in case you are elbow deep in grapes.

To be honest, I would assume so but I have no idea. I've always made the jam as written to avoid too many steps and never separated the skins/pulp and seeds but let the Foley Food Mill do that (now I have a Victorio strainer and may try that this year with the special grape attachment: I also have a Victorio juicer where I just throw all the grapes in, stems and all, and in no time I have pure grape juice--I add a bit of sugar, also).

What you want is the natural pectin from the skins to help in the jelling process. Don't make the mistake I did once of trying to double or triple the recipe. Jams need to be made in small batches as it helps the natural setting process. I never needed pectin in small batches.

Let me know how it turns out and thanks for stopping by ~ Best, Catherine

PS You can find me these days mostly at my new blog (although I do post pantry-related things here on occasion:

David said...

Hi Catherine. Would I be able to use a Juiceman type of juicer to replace the food mill?

Thx, David

Catherine said...

Hi David -- I wouldn't advise it. It will likely overdue the grape process. If you don't have a food mill you can also use a large sieve: place your pulpy grape mixture in that and press gently, but firmly, until most of the liquid and pulp has extracted through the sieve.

Although, I am not experienced with juicers. Do they use the whole fruit? The seeds might adversely affect the final results, unless you seeded each one first. That's why I use a food mill which avoids that step!

Good l luck and let me know ~