We have a White Concord grapevine growing up our south facing deck at the house.
The vines run along the metal cable railing.
The raccoons have been raiding the grapes for the past couple of weeks which means we have not enjoyed a decent nights sleep during this time. Magpie literally explodes into a barking, snarling frenzy when she hears them on the deck.
The grapes were still a bit too tart to pick, so I kept hoping Magpie’s recent face off with one of the raccoons would keep them away for a couple more days allowing the grapes to ripen enough for us to enjoy. That didn’t happen. The first family of raccoons must have decided to tell all of their friends because we started having several visitations a night this past week. Needless to say, we are sleep deprived and it’s getting a little cranky around here. I finally decided to try and salvage the remaining grapes but truthfully – it was more about getting sleep than getting grapes. To my surprise I still ended up with about 12 lbs. of grapes – our biggest harvest to date, but I’m pretty sure the raccoons ate at least that much.
Be careful of what you wish for.
So what do you do with 12 lbs of candy sweet grapes? They are a bit too sweet for me but M likes eating them fresh, as do the chickens. I decided to use a portion of them to make grape jam. I’ve never been a grape jelly fan – much too sweet for me but several people wrote in their blogs that homemade concord grape jam is nothing like the store bought kind so I gave it a go.
The whole kitchen smelled like a grape candy factory – I thought I was going to keel over from the super sweet smell. But I pressed on. First problem – I couldn’t get it to gel despite bringing it to the 220 degree temp Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving directed. I kept it going and took several “wrinkle” tests all the while afraid I’d end up making it too thick. After five attempts I moved on to the canning stage.
Second problem – I used half pint jars as we just don’t go through jam that fast. Unfortunately I forgot that the canning rack really only works well with quart jars so most of the jars fell in. I fished them out – all seemed to be ok. After the jars had cooled and all of the lids had popped indicating they were sealed, the jam looked a bit runny. Hrrrumph. By that time it was time to start dinner, so I decided I’d wait until the next day to deal with the runny jam.
Dinner was seared Tamworth pork chops with a grape pan sauce – I deglazed the pan with vermouth, added shallots, thyme, fresh concord grapes and a bit of chicken broth – cooked that down then tossed the chops back in for a minute. This was served with mashed sweet potatoes. It turned out quite nice although I think I might add a little Dijon and a splash of balsamic vinegar if I make it again.
I heated the hot water bath canner up again this morning. Opened all of the jars, dumped them back into my stock pot, brought it back up to 220 degrees and performed the “wrinkle” test. Still runny. Several attempts later I finally achieved the “wrinkle”. By this time, the jam had cooked way down and that was when I had my Aha moment.
I was bothered by the fact that it took so long – so many people complained that they had cooked theirs too long and it was much too thick. I think that was what clouded my judgment. It finally occurred to me what the problem was. Our grapes are seedless. All recipes for Concord Grape Jam involve a process of squeezing the pulp and seeds out of the skins, cooking that down and straining the seeds out, then adding the skins, lemon juice and sugar and bringing that up to the gel stage at 220 degrees.
My first clue should have been that the recipe is supposed to yield about five to six half pint jars of jam and I had six half pints, a full pint plus a little more. By skipping the pulp squeezing part – I just started out with the whole grapes and sugar – I had way more juice from the start that hadn’t been allowed to cook down. My second attempt was on the money – six half pint jars.
The other thing I wasn’t expecting – our grapes are white Concord grapes and throughout the most of the cooking process, they were their usual light green color, but right at the end of the cooking stage they started to turn a rosy color and by the time I completed the second attempt to reach the gel stage the jam was much darker – not as dark and opaque as a regular Concord grape jam but you’d never look at this jam and think it came from green grapes! It looks more like a plum jam.
Despite adding extra lemon and lemon zest to help cut the sweetness, it is still pretty sweet. I did enjoy it with peanut butter on toast though – the peanut butter certainly helps to cut the sweetness. I also like the rustic texture – you can still see grapes in it.
I imagine I’ll be using it more in savory dishes. I love fruit and meat together. Just add a spoon of it with a little Dijon, maybe a splash of vinegar to make a quick pan sauce for chicken or pork. You can also make a vinaigrette with it. I did strain off a little bit of the syrup and set that aside to make grape sodas – just add a drizzle to a glass of seltzer – Yum! A little dab will do ya – this way you can enjoy a soda that isn’t sickening sweet or made with high fructose corn syrup.
Tonight I’m going to ask my bartender (aka M) to make me Grape Gin Fizz!