Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grape Jam

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First, let me say that you have never tasted anything like jam made from the following recipe. It’s not even remotely related to the jam you get in the supermarket, but an intense blast of grape that takes your breath away. Making grape jam is a labor of love - and I do mean labor. If you aren’t serious about cooking and food, you don’t want to even contemplate this recipe. Every year I vow that it will be the last year I make it, but every year as we finish our stash of jam, I once again bring out all of my equipment and settle down for several days of jam making.

Nowadays, in the United States, you can get practically any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year, even if the quality might suffer a little. But if you live on the East Coast, Concord grapes, the kind needed to make grape jam, are only available September through October. For the best jam, it’s best to wait until early October when all of the grapes you get will be dark purple, sweet and plump.

Why is my jam so different from commercial jam? I believe it’s because I pop the pulp out of the skins and cook the pulp, but leave the skins uncooked. These I puree (almost) and then sieve them together with the pulp. I use much less sugar than commercial jam so that the grape flavor can shine through. But make no mistake, this is NOT low-sugar jam – only lower than the commercial variety. Because it’s got less sugar than normal, I do need to use low-sugar pectin.

Penny’s Incredible Grape Jam
Makes 8 wide-mouth 12-ounce jars

7 dry quarts of concord grapes
56-58 ounces sugar (8 to 8-1/3 cups)
3/4 cup water
63-66 grams (more than 1 box) Sure-Jell™ – No Sugar Needed Pectin (in the pink box)
dash of cooking oil

To make this quantity of jam, you are going to need a large canning pot in which to sterilize the jars and seal the jars. And you’ll also need a very large stockpot in which to cook the jam. If you decide to make a smaller quantity, you will need a pot that is 3 times larger than the quantity of jam you are making, as it bubbles up quite a bit as it cooks.


I also have some other canning supplies that are useful: special tongs with which to hold the jars, and a funnel that is especially made for jam making. I use a mesh lingerie bag to hold the lids and tops. A food mill is also essential.

To start, put the jars (without the lids and tops), into the canner and fill the whole thing so that the jars are covered by about 1-1/2-2-inches of water. Put the lids and tops in the mesh bag and put it in the canner ( tops can never be re-used, but the lids and jars can be used year to year, as long as the lids are not rusty) . Cover, and bring the pot to boiling. Turn down the heat and keep it at a simmer.

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To make the jam, place the grapes in a colander and wash them well.

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Over the cooking pot, squeeze each grape, forcing the pulp to pop out into the pot. Place the skins in a large processor bowl.

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I usually process half of the skins at a time, for about 1 minute. They will get very liquidy.

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Pour the contents of the processor into the food mill, which has been placed over a super-size measuring cup. Press the contents through the mill until only the dryish skins remain. Repeat with the remaining skins

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Add the water to the pulp and set it on the stove. Boil the pulp for 5 minutes. Pour the pulp and liquid on top of the skin residue in the food mill, and press everything through , using a back and forth motion of the mill, so that you aren’t grinding up the seeds, but are getting the pulp to go through.

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Discard the seeds and remaining residue. You should have approximately 9 cups of grape juice. Remove any extra or add a little water if needed so that you have exactly 9 cups of juice. Make sure that the cooking pot has no seeds in it. Pour the juice into the cooking pot.

Measure out the sugar (there's a range to allow for personal taste, but also the grapes vary in sweetness). In a small bowl, combine 2/3 cup of the sugar with the pectin (you have a range here too - also depending on how sweet the grapes are).

Gradually stir this into the grape juice. Add a dash of oil, so that the jam doesn’t get too foamy when it starts to boil.

Set the pot on the stove and bring it to a full-rolling boil – that is, a boil that can not be stirred down, stirring continuously ( the mixture will be a muddy, maroon color).

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Dump in the sugar, all at once. Stirring continuously, cook until the sugar is completely melted, and then bring the mixture to a full rolling boil again. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. At this point the mixture will triple in volume, bubbling furiously, and will change to a dark purple color (although the picture doesn’t show the color clearly).

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When the minute is up, turn off the heat. If using an electric stove, you will need to slide the pot off of the burner, so that it doesn’t continue to cook. Skim off any foam and discard it.

Take three of the jars out of the boiling water, using the special jar holder (so that you don’t get burned), emptying the water back into the pot. Turn the jars upside down onto a towel, and then using oven mitts, turn them right side up. Remove the tops and lids from the boiling water and let drain on the towel, as well.

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Place the funnel in one jar, and ladle in the hot jam, filling the jar as high as it will go without touching the funnel.

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Remove the funnel. If there is any jam on the rim of the jar, wipe it off with a clean, damp cloth.

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Place the top on the jar and then screw on the lid. Repeat with the remaining jars, and then take out three more hot jars and repeat the process.

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Tighten the lids, and using the jar holder, place the jars back in the boiling water. Cover the pot, and simmer the jars for 5 minutes.

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Remove the jars from the simmering water, and set them aside to cool. As they cool, you should here the lids pop down. To make sure that each jar is well sealed, press on the top of the lid. If there is any movement, the jar is not sealed, and should be placed in the refrigerator. The remaining jars can be put in the pantry for 12-18 months. To use, remove the screw lid, and use a beer bottle opener to pry up the top. Store in the refrigerator once opened.

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You can see in the photo that the jam on the back muffin is redder and thicker and the jam on the front half is more grape-looking and runnier. Both were made with the exact same recipe. Logically you would think (or I did) that the darker one would be sweeter. But in fact the darker one was more tart and runnier. Cooking might be science, but sometimes you don’t know what the parameters are until you are into it! At this moment I am recooking the runny jam with another half cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of pectin/water mixture (ratio is on the box of pectin). Always an adventure!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Making the Best Apple Pie

I'm almost done with this post, but need a few more photos which will be coming tomorrow (needless to say I am making this again). Check back tomorrow for my saga of making the best apple pie, and a recipe.