Grape Expectations

My great-grandmother had a grape arbor on her farm. It produced so well and so often that she often made and canned homemade grape jam. Seeing as how she made it so well and so often, one would think it was a cinch to make, no? No! I wish. I had such a pleasant, relaxing experience making strawberry jam that I just naturally assumed that it would translate. I was ridiculously wrong. And oh how I wished I weren’t…

The difference was not just in the method of preparation, but also in cooking and processing. There was a different science to it owing to its being the more old-fashioned, no-pectin-added variety. It’s literally 3 ingredients! Concord grapes, water (or liquid of choice), and sugar. Grapes have a naturally higher pectin content making it an ideal fruit actually when you’re running short on pectin (dangit, ‘Rona!). Pectin is what gives your jam that thick and saucy texture we all know and love. I even read somewhere that some vintage home cooks desiring to increase the pectin content in their jams and jellies, would add a grated green apple to their recipes to bump up the pectin content in their home-canned products.

Better Homes and Gardens captioned this recipe “Grape Jam recipes don’t come simpler than this classic homemade jam…” I couldn’t disagree more. The average home cook is not accustomed to peeling grapes. The only people I know who peel grapes are the ones concerned about pesticides, but it seems rather arduous to peel an entire bunch of grapes for a snack. Trust me, I peeled 4c for jam! Concord grapes are known for their slip-skin, but the process still wasn’t a walk in the park. Another less-than-simple step to this was pressing the cooked grapes through a sieve to separate the seeds and cooked skins from the pulp. This step too, was time-consuming and tiring. As soon as The Mr (yes, he helped) and I made it to 3c of strained anything, we called it good and finished the recipe.

Grape juice and grape jellies and jams are long-time favorites of children and adults alike. America’s favorite grape juice and grape jelly come from Concord grapes.
Image courtesy of the Concord Grape Assn

The frosty, deep-blue-purple clusters of Concord grapes (so named for the village in Massachusetts from which the variety originates), visually reminded me of crisp blueberries. They are absolutely gorgeous; much prettier than the ordinary seedless varietals found in supermarkets! They’re sweet-sour and popular for jams, jellies, juice, and even kosher wine. They’re like the filet mignon of the grape world. A little pricier, but well worth the extra splurge. (FYI, If you have a chance to snag some Cotton Candy grapes, don’t hesitate. They too are worth the little extra expense!)

Concord grapes enjoy such a rich history here in America and abroad. They were cultivated and juiced long before WW1. When the Great War rolled around, jam was produced and sent overseas as part of soldiers rations. During the WW2, as a means of upping soldiers’ protein, PB&J was sent overseas to nourish America’s men and boys on the front lines. When the boys came home, they couldn’t stop thinking about it and an American sandwich icon enjoyed in adversity was nurtured on the homefront in more peaceful times.

The finished product was tart and aromatic with a sweet, smooth texture. It was perfect for blanketing on some buttermilk biscuits with my coffee the next morning. It also made a fantastic PBJ on brioche for lunch as well! (Can you tell by now that we’re partial to brioche around my house?) For dessert that evening, we topped some scoops of vanilla ice cream with drizzles of grape jam! It’s even delicious straight from the jar! It’s an all-American, versatile treat. The recipe says it makes 6 half-pints, but I was able to squeeze 7-3/4 out of it measuring with a 1c measuring cup when filling the jars.

Its deep purple hue juxtaposed against the garnet of the strawberry jam in my pantry makes it look like I’m storing precious gems in there rather than jams. Maybe I should start calling them “Tiffani’s Precious Jams”… The one thing I think I would change in this recipe would be to add one vanilla pod (scored and seeded) to the mixture as it cooks (pod removed prior to canning). It would just add that subtle “something extra” to the palate. However, due to the time-consuming nature of this jam, I highly doubt I’ll be making grape jam anytime soon.

What is your favorite flavor of jam/jelly/preserves?

Currently Reading: Bon Appétit magazine, November 2014 issue


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