Fall Preserving: Grape Jellies and Other Tales of Grapeness

You may remember that this year I've been so inspired by Linda Ziedrich and her book The Joys of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves that I've made nearly all of my jams and jellies this year without commercial pectin. I love the textures of these preserves so much more than their boxed pectin counterparts, and because they usually have less sugar, the flavor of the fruit really seems to shine through in an exotic way.

I have loved her book so much, that all season I felt like I first procured the fruit, and then turned to the section discussing the fruit to decide what to do with it. When I got a half bushel of Concord grapes from my Parents, I had already earmarked enough grapes for one batch of boxed pectin-free jelly, an amount for drinking vinegar, and some for grape molasses.

I have never really heard of grape molasses, never have I tasted it or do I have any idea what the finished texture should be like. In fact, my finished product is still in a bowl in my fridge (about a week now), since I am still unsure what to do with it. It's riddled with tartaric acid crystals, but it is also thickened, almost "pulpy", and painfully grapey. There is no added sugar, so the grapeness of the grapes is just really intensified and luxurious. Just lifting the lid makes the air feel purple.

I may take it out later today and boil it down a little more, I may can some of it into small jars for gifts - or I may just keep it all in the fridge and commit to eating it over the next 6 months myself. Yesterday, I cooked down a grocery bag full of Cortland apples and turned them into sauce, I'm waiting until tomorrow to can it all. If I can find a definitive authority on the acidity of the Concord grape, I may add some to my pints of applesauce. The idea of purple applesauce is very exciting to me!

an old French food mill that my Mom gave me: how I derived my grape must for the grape molasses, since I have no fruit press.

With several fruits I've worked with this Summer, I've made a drinking vinegar that I have been in love with. So far the cherry vinegar is my favorite, but I have a feeling this grape vinegar will take a close second after I strain and sweeten it. I have used the same method for each fruit or berry, one outlined in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. I don't cook down it into a more syrupy vinegar, instead I barely heat it - just enough to fully dissolve the sugar. Since I use raw apple cider vinegar, I am able to keep it raw this way. It's great on salad, but I have to admit, I really have just been drinking it 2 tablespoons at a time in sparkling water. (The elderberry version, I save for when I feel a cold coming on. I'm convinced that it shortens the duration of a cold or prevents it from fully forming altogether. When I took it 2 times a day after my first cold of the season was underway, my cold was gone completely after 2 days. I'm not making it up... and I hope it wasn't a fluke!)

To make it, soak 2 1/4 lbs. of fruit or berry in 2 1/2 c. of raw cider vinegar for 5-7 days. Strain out the fruit (I press it to get all the juices). For every cup of vinegar, add 1 c. of sugar and heat just enough to dissolve the sugar. Yes, it is sweet, but you don't need much to flavor a drink or a vegetable, and you can comfort yourself with the idea of consuming raw, healthful vinegar.

With the molasses and vinegars done, I turned to the natural pectin of green apple to make a spectacular small batch of grape jelly. The flavor is so clean and it's so gently sweet that I can't help but be smitten. I have a precious 3 jar batch, plus just a tad shy of a 4th full jar of runover. The set can only be described as lovely and old fashioned. I'll have to grab more grapes next year, since I prefer this tenfold over conventional high-sugar box-pectin grape jelly.

natural pectin grape jelly.

With just a few pounds of grapes remaining, I made this grape focaccia from Mostly Foodstuffs. I had been looking forward to it, and I wasn't disappointed. It's better than any focaccia I've ever eaten; I was addicted to the sweet/salty/grapey combination, and how it all pulled together so well because of the rosemary. It was also the fastest yeast dough I've ever made. It may require your lazy attention for the first 30-40 minutes of it's life, but it is so self-sufficient it practically makes itself. If you can get your hands on a cup of Concords, make it while you can!

The combination of rosemary and Concord grape was such a revelation to me that I immediately soaked the last of the grape concentrate I had already made in the fridge with 3-4 large sprigs of rosemary needles. I let it sit another 24 hours before making it into a conventional, high sugar jelly. I wasn't sure I'd like it as well after having such a spectacular luck with the boxed pectin-free jelly, but I did. It was very sweet and the texture was different, but it did taste like rosemary in that resinous, "what is that flavor" kind of way. I got 8 jars, too... perfect for gift giving (with some aged Wisconsin cheddar, I think).

Concord Grape and Rosemary Jelly (adapted from the Certo liquid pectin insert)
7 half pints, plus runover
  • 4 c. Concord grape concentrate (made from 3-4 lbs grapes, steamed and strained through a jelly bag)
  • 3-4 large sprigs of rosemary, needles removed
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  • 7 c. granulated sugar (1341 g.)
Stir rosemary needles into the grape concentrate, and let sit for 24 hours to infuse. Strain out the needles.

Sterilize jars (I used 8 half pints). I like using the oven for sterilization now - I put the clean jars on a baking sheet and slip it into the cold oven. Heat the oven to 250 and hold for at least a half an hour. Then, I grab the jars a couple at a time as I'm filling with a potholder.

Put the grape concentrate and sugar into a preserving pot. Heat and stir over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Add pectin, and return to a boil for exactly one minute. (Refer to insert instructions.) Quickly ladle into sterilized jars, add lids and rings, and process in a hot water bath for 5 minutes. Remove to a resting towel, and do not disturb for at least 24 hours.

Interspersed with all the grapeness, I also managed to work my way through a bushel of tomatoes last week. I didn't need to worry about quarts of whole tomatoes or pints of spaghetti sauce, since my Mom did both of those for me. I felt like I had those tomatoes to really do whatever I wanted with, and since they were canner's seconds, I was just a little at the mercy of the big, watery, tomatoes. I settled on well-cooked-down things like another batch of my favorite Tomato Jam, a 3/4 batch of Classic Tomato Ketchup (a first for me, and I loved it!), and I made the last 8 lbs. or so into a mildly spicy vegetable "Bloody Mary Mix" which worked well with the consistency of my tomato variety. It seemed like a busy preserving week, but I was happy with everything, and my shelves feel considerably more full.

What continues to stand out to me is that Concord Grape and Rosemary Jelly, and I think in the depths of Winter I can probably make a plain focaccia bread and slather it with the jelly to reminisce the flavor of this Fall's flavor epiphany.

Grape Paradise

One week ago today, about 8:30pm, I heard a knock on the door. When I opened, this is what I had acquired:

Dimitri's friend had more grapes that were going unused, and he wondered if I would use them. Grapes? YES. It seemed like quite a few, but since I had nothing really planned for the week, I gratefully accepted them.

It turned out to be about 24 1/4 lbs of grapes after I cleaned them. That was quite a few. By my math (which I'm only really proficient at when it comes to kitchen related duties), I would have plenty for 24 quarts of juice and 2 batches of jelly.

I actually had to go and purchase jars, since I live so far from my Mom. She has a basement full of jars, so it seemed a pity, but no matter. I took the opportunity to get some jars that I know she doesn't have: 6 half gallons and some quilted 12 oz. jam jars. I had to break out my tamale steamer to actually accommodate the half gallon jars, and could only do 3 at a time, but it was nice to see such gigantic jars of finished juice as a result.

I opted for the method of juice making where you include the cleaned grapes. This is always how my Mom canned juice, and I do like the look of the fading grapes in the jars as their dark skins permeate their surrounding liquid. I used 8 oz. of grapes per quart (1 lb. per half gallon).

The resulting jars looked like a small city on the counter, The Citadel of Grape Paradise. I did the half gallons on Monday, and the quarts on Tuesday. Wednesday I cooked down the grape concentrate and then, Thursday, devoted time to grape jelly.

After talking with my Mom, who was actually sitting on the harbor in Maine watching sea traffic (on vacation), she told me the Amish in our area actually can the grape concentrate and just add water to reconstitute when serving. Then, R1 told me that her Mom recently gave her a glass of grape juice that was just the concentrate, water and a pinch of stevia powder. Is that good! I ended up making only one batch of jelly, to make room for grape concentrate drinks, and just yesterday decided to freeze the rest of the concentrate into ice cubes for drinking purposes later.

I plan to find out about canning unsweetened grape concentrate for next year, so I can sweeten as needed with stevia. After all, I do need to cut down on sugar where I can...

This, above, is the last of the concentrate from my refrigerator. Yesterday, I made

Rishi Tea's Cinnamon Plum, which I found in bulk at the co-op last time I went. I added about an ounce of the grape concentrate to it, and it was so tart and lovely... not to mention, packed with antioxidants.

It's exciting now, at the end of the canning season, so look back at my accomplishments this summer.I've never full out canned my way through the season before, but I'm so glad I did! I cracked open my spicy dilly beans and candied jalapenos, and was so excited that they were delicious. I pop in an alcohol soaked cherry here and there when I need something out of the icebox, and have several types of jam to carry my bread obsessions through the winter.

We've had a frost now, and Dewey said this morning that we are not going to see a temp over 49 degrees all week. Autumn is full blown here and there is, brace yourselves, a chance of SNOW tonight after 1am. I'd say winter is coming fast this year. Time to hunker down and knit, I'd say.