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.

Strawberries. With Chiles.

Strawberry jam has never really been one of my favorite things, though the strawberry itself is. I I feel that not much can improve the natural sweetness of early Summer berries, and adding a boatload of sugar to jam boosts that sweetness to a level that almost makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Nevertheless, I make strawberry jam every year.

My strawberry season is late this year. My 16 quarts of Amish grown and picked berries were delivered to me last weekend by my Parents, who came to celebrate the Kiddo's birthday. The berries were close to the final picking, and were smaller than the first pickings, but they were sweet and delicious and I was thankful for them.

In the past, my strawberry jam was always made with boxed pectin, but as a recent convert to pectin-free jams I may just find that my stigma against strawberry jam is over. Although the sugar is still high, the soft set of the jam is much more desirable to me - and deciding to add some chiles to the jam pot tempers the too-sweet phenomenon with a deep earthy undertone.

I've seen a number of strawberry-chile recipes around, and originally thought I'd make this one: Tigress's Strawberry Chipotle jam. I do love chipotle, but thought that making a batch may limit my consumption and gifting options. Chipotle is a strong chile flavor, and although I love it, I wanted a soft, what-is-that? flavor. Ever remembering Rick Bayless's words declaring the stately Guajillo chile the "workhorse", I dipped into my large bagful and chose two brick red specimens to include.

I based the recipe on Linda Zeidrich's Strawberry Orange Jam in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. I altered her method a little, since I combined all the ingredients and let them sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. I think 12 hours would have sufficed. I didn't mash the berries until I began to cook them down. Curious as I am, I lifted the lid on the pot several times when the berries were relaxing. I knew orange and guajillo worked well on pork, and figured they could only improve berries too - but the seductiveness of strawberry-guajillo jam was too interesting for words. Spoons dipped in, I followed the mellowing process to discover the chiles adding the mildest bit of heat, but the strongest undertone of warmth. Indeed, the finished jam coated the back of my throat in coziness, a nice departure from the tongue-stinging bite I usually demand from chile. This is one recipe that I'll be making for a long time I think.

Strawberry Guajillo Jam with Orange (adapted from Linda Zeidrich)
my yield was 6 half pints
  • 3 lbs. strawberries, hulled
  • 1 medium sized orange
  • 2 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed (use the seeds as well)
  • 4 1/2 c. sugar
Remove the zest of the orange with a peeler, and slice into thin shreds. Squeeze out the orange juice and add to the berries in a non-reactive preserving pot. Chop the guajillo chiles into small pieces and add to the pot. Add sugar, stir carefully to combine, and let the pot sit covered at room temperature for 8-12 hours, or longer if you have to.

When ready to make the jam, heat the pot over medium heat and stir gently to fully dissolve the sugar. Raise the heat, continue cooking until the jam boils, mashing with a masher to break up the fruit as desired and skimming off the foam, until a drop of jam mounds slightly in a dish. (I had a number of dishes in the freezer to use as testers, but didn't use them at all. You can really feel when the consistency of the jam changes as you stir.)

Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, add lids and rings, and process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

(I have not made my own pectin, which I plan on trying. This can be done with high-pectin fruit such as green apple or gooseberry. My jams boiled away for quite a while before reaching the jam point, the added pectin would reduce that. But like I've said before, if I'm rich in anything, it's time...)

after sitting overnight.

the finished jam. softly set, perfectly gorgeous.

I actually bought the Linda Ziedrich book I mentioned above for my Mom this past Mother's Day. I had rented and read it from the library, and figured that she and I both would enjoy the use of it in our own shared library. She brought it down when she came, and I hungrily reread the opening "Preserver's Primer" where Linda gives an overview of the history of preserving and the tables of pectin and acid contents of fruits. Then, I happily skipped to the recipes on strawberries, figuring to choose 2. Thinking of shrunken heads and whole fruit preserves, I made the extremely high sugar strawberry preserve recipe. I didn't add anything to her recipe, though next time I may like a little diversity. The berries did turn out well, very sweet, and I think this will be a case where I use the preserve in something else that tames the sweetness rather than to slather it heavily on jam.


I had just a little 2 oz. jar leftover that I could taste when fully cool, and it was still super sweet. the berries were a great texture, however.

Now 10 jars of jam are resting on the shelf, but my favorite strawberry preservation method is just to hull, wash, dry and pack the whole berries into quart jars and then freeze them. Of my more than 16 lbs of berries, 5 1/2 were made into jam, a pound or two disappeared in fresh eating, and the rest are frozen in the deep freeze. I can usually finagle a few frozen berries out with a butter knife for smoothies, or better, I defrost a whole quart. When the berries are still half frozen, I cut them in half or quarters, and sprinkle them with just a bit of sugar. Then, they taste like their true strawberry selves, even if not able to be spread thickly upon bread. (Though if the bread has cream cheese on it first, it will work in a pinch!)

It seems I can never appropriately judge the volume of a container; I can't tell you how much extra dish washing I have done because of this. I suspect I've lost a week of my time to poor judgement, but I find it kind of funny. Frequently I can be overheard talking to myself - congratulating myself on my great spacial handicap, but fortunately the errors in my judgement usually only pertain to volume.

When I add chiles to sweets or savories, it always proves to be good judgement, and makes up for any disheartening times I've had meanwhile. I'm imagining even now that a spoonful of strawberry-guajillo jam stirred into hot chocolate may be transcendent, though I will wait until Fall for that. Meanwhile, I'll wonder if there is anything that the Guajillo can't do. I'm not sure I love any other chile more.

Pectin-Free Blackberry (Punk) Jam.

This year, it appears I've accidentally fallen into making pectin-free jams. I didn't really intend to, I just never purchased any boxes of liquid or powder and then discovered upon reading that it's really not necessary anyway. Sure, packaged pectin makes a batch of jam go a little more quickly, but if it is one thing I am rich in it's time.

My first pectin-free batch was Tigress's rhubarb-lavender jam, which if you need a super delicious jam and happen to love rhubarb is certainly worth your time. I LOVE it: in yogurt, on toast, plain on a spoon. I'm so glad I have 10 half pints sitting on the shelf, since it will likely be gifted to many people and devoured personally. That batch was also my first canning experience this season, which tends to open the floodgates of food preservation via the hot water bath for me. "What else can I can?" all of a sudden becomes my mantra, inspiration coming from unlikely sources.

not bad for iPhone photography in my opinion...

The same day that Punk Domestics announced a Punkberry theme for the summer, my Mother-in-Law asked me to go shopping with her. Although I didn't need anything (except we were also going to a garden center) I perused. I found 18 oz. packages of giant California blackberries at a good price, and they were organic. For about 10$, I got 2 lbs. 5 oz. when I weighed them at home, the perfect amount for a small batch of blackberry jam. I have never concocted my own canning recipe before, and I really wanted to come up with something punky for Punk Domestics. I'm a little early for the July submission date, but this jam can't wait. I am so excited that it worked well and tastes great!

Small batches of jam, as it turns out, are actually better for pectin-free jams, especially ones containing fruit that doesn't have a whole lot of natural pectin. Blackberries, according to one chart I found, are kind of in the middle of the road for pectin containing, whereas the rhubarb jam I started with ranks higher. I still have a lot to learn about pectin-free jam, I almost feel like my jam got too "jammed" by the time it cooled - even though it looked and reacted perfectly to the "plates-in-the-freezer" test. I like the texture, even though it got a little more solid than I was expecting.

What is more Punk than booze? Not much, I'd say. After considering some kind of herby blackberry jam, I settled on a tamer, slightly more ordinary orange version. I figured it would be a good excuse to use a little of my homemade orange liqueur from earlier this year, and I think I was right. The result was tart-sweet jam with a slight booze kick from my not-quite-mellowed liqueur. My ratio was based on methods from Linda Ziedrich (via Julia) and a photocopied recipe for Strawberry Grand Marnier jam that I found in a book from the library. I used weight measurement on the sugar since I used raw, a good conversion table is here.

Pectin-Free Blackberry Punk Jam
yield 3 half pints
  • 2 lbs., 5 oz. blackberries, washed and lightly dried
  • zest of one (organic) orange, grated
  • 540 g. sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. orange liqueur (homemade or purchased)
You may use whatever jam-making method you prefer. Since I am new to pectin-free jams this is what I did:

Put several small plates into the freezer for use as jam testers. Ready jars, hot water bath and other canning accoutrements. (Sterilize jars for 10 minutes in boiling water and keep warm. A good canning primer can be found here.)

Mash the berries, orange zest and sugar in a large non-reactive bowl and let macerate for several hours at room temperature. At this point, you can decide if you want super seedy jam, half seedy jam or seedless jam. I opted for half seedy and pushed the macerated fruit mixture through a china cap. Then, I added half of the fruit pulp back to the mixture.

In a large, non-reactive pot, heat the blackberry mixture with the lemon juice until boiling. Skim off the foam (reserve in a bowl, see below...) carefully, and continue to stir pretty regularly until the jam starts to thicken.

Test for the "jam" by dropping a teaspoon or so of jam onto a frozen plate and returning the plate to the freezer for one minute. If you can draw a line with your finger on the plate and no jam runs back into it, you should be at the jamming stage. When sure of your set, remove from heat and stir in the booze. Then fill the sterilized jars, wipe rims, add lids and ring them and process in hot water for 10 minutes. Remove from water bath and let sit for 24 hours before checking for seal.

I was so happy to be reuinited with the flavor of blackberry. I was equally excited to have some fruit pulp and reserved "foam" that I skimmed off the top... Our weather has been so chilly that my kombucha has been taking longer to brew, but this next bottling is certainly going to be blackberry and I can hardly wait. Even though the fruit pulp is super seedy, it hasn't stopped me from eating it. So what if I have to floss a little more often during the day. It's worth it in the flavor department. I have enough leftover that I may try this coffee cake too. In fact, I may do that right now. I am out of dessert after all.  (Here's a pic.)

waste not, want not: blackberry foam.

Also fortunately for me, I planned bread to be out of the oven yesterday afternoon. I shaped my new favorite Peter Reinhart bread into one large pound and a half sized loaf, and had enough dough leftover for about 5 smallish dinner rolls. I never formed sourdough bread into rolls before (except the multi-grain variation) and I liked them a lot. I happen to be a "crust person", and these babies are like all crust. They also were a grand vehicle for newly minted jam surplus.

I have not had blackberry jam in what seems like forever. Growing up in the northwoods, we had a brambly patch of blackberries, one that even though we were semi-rural my Parents had to chase tourists from every so often. We actually called the Summer people "Berry Pickers", and my Mom tells me that in the '60's (when her family ran a drive-in restaurant), come Labor Day, the business owners of the community would line state highway 51 and shout "Goodbye, Pickers!" as they all drove south back to their city homes.

The wild blueberries we picked and our cultivated maze of thorny blackberries are still some of my favorite flavors, my Mom canned both into jams. When our family moved south, to the Driftless Region closer to the Mississippi, our farm came with established raspberries. At first we were all extremely happy with this change, but forever-after it seems I have been craving the deep purple blackberry. I finally have my fix, and though it's a tiny batch that I'll hoard (excepting one jar to my Parents), it's one that I will thoroughly enjoy.

I'm going to try and go the whole Summer pectin-free. I'd like to make my own pectin as well, which doesn't seem difficult just a little uncertain due to the strength of the finished product. So far, however, I do know that it feels good not to rely on that little box of Sure-Jell, knowing that if I don't happen to have one on hand I can still preserve something handsomely. If anyone has any good pectin-related information, send the links my way!