Seasonal Sensation: Black Grape Jam

Moving towards winter, I realize I am closer and closer to running out of time to hoard fresh, seasonal goodies. Although I have the harvest’s great bounty at my finger tips, the CSA only offers so much in the way of sweet little things. Blackberries and strawberries were small, sweet and a bit pricey to try and stock up on. The cantaloupe was LITERALLY the best I had ever eaten in my life, but it sure doesn’t keep very well. So I made small batches of strawberry and honey jam, a few jars of strawberry rhubarb jam ( I just mixed rhubarb compote into a small portion of strawberry jam) , and I even made a new favorite with some vanilla and husk cherries. Every year I find myself dabbling with the exotic, I make something unique that is great with cheese. This year was the Husk Cherry Preserves, last year was the Peppery Fig and Balsamic Jam. Although we consistently stock favorites like Thai Style Sweet Chili Sauce, you have to have something for toast and sammy’s. Typically we would go strawberry picking and end up with eight to twelve jars of strawberry jam but this year I struggled with trying to decide whether or not I wanted to go “non-organic.” We picked organic apples this year for the first time, but frankly I am still in shock I found those. Pick your own farms are few and far between here in the Pocono region, and organic pick your own farms are about as common as flying pigs and unicorns. So here I am realizing that although I have made so much progress this year in the way of eating sustainable, organic and local, I am still kind of stuck with conventional goods.

I have conspiracy theories when it comes to “organic food,” I mean come on is it really any better? Most of our “organic” products are sold side-by-side with the same exact huge name brands that sell conventional goods. I have to admit that I am falling into the gullible-better-safe-than-sorry group of thought and at the end of the day, I can only afford so much. I realize more and more now days that my thoughts on real food are setting me apart from “normal people.” I guess I sound crazy and post apocalyptic. I just don’t like the idea of eating chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, preservatives and poisons. I can not accept that “it is what it is,” and I guess it really has come to rule my thoughts. There is so much talk of “organic and natural” but here’s the deal folks, just a few generations back people didn’t have those terms because food was just food.  It wasn’t common for every single person to know at least one friend or foe with cancer, (BOTH of my step parents had cancer) it wasn’t normal to be infertile or immobilized by disease and/or obesity. Realistically I can not set aside all conventional foods but, I can  read labels, I can choose not to buy anything that has any dodgy ingredients. Above and beyond all theories and “science” I can do this: buy whole foods and process them myself. It is better than relying on labels to give me a false peace of mind. I guess I’m just insane. Whoops! No surprise there.

I could have gone with a bucket load of organic strawberries but one: that would have cost a fortune and two: those things don’t taste like strawberries, no matter what time of year you buy them. (and why are they so darn big?!?) So I found these Black Seedless Table Grapes, they were side by side with “organic red and green grapes” but I opted for these beauties. They are sleek, dark and pack a punch of flavor unlike anything I’ve had before. Normal grape jelly is something of a cult classic, but I have honestly never liked the stuff. I do recall it from my childhood because it was cheap (perfect for the military family budget) and it came in cute little juice glasses. The old school grape jiggle is made with concord grapes, and those would work just wonderful but I have not seen them yet this year. This jam is a world apart from the old school jelly of my youth, it has body, it has flavor, it has personality I have found in no jar on any shelf… except maybe mine.

 Yields 4 Half Pint Jars

I have found that Smaller jars work best for jams. They always seem to set better in small jars. Do not try to double the recipe, it is a labor of love and if you try to double up your jam will not gel.

1. Remove 2 pounds of grapes from the stems. Give them a wicked good rinse.

2. Place into a blender, (with your pineapple or orange juice) and blend until smooth-as-can-be.

3. Place grape mixture into a pot with 2 to 3 cups of sugar, juice and a pinch of sea salt.

4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

5. Simmer and Stir, stir, stir for 10-15-20 minutes.

Explanation: You want to cook your jam until it has set. Picture one shows what the jam will look like after about 10 minutes of cooking and stirring. Your jam will go from a frothy, foamy wet mixture to a thick syrup, to a heavy syrup that will coat your spoon. At this stage (picture two) you are ready to test your jam to see if it will gel. Place a small amount on a frozen spoon or plate, or simply place in a shot glass and refrigerate for a few minutes. If it seems to have solidified you are golden. If it is still quite wet you need five more minutes. I find 15-20 works just right for me.

6. Place hot jam into sterile jars. Wipe rims entirely clean, secure lids and rings into place and place into a stock pot, cover with water and bring it up to a boil. Process in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the water bath and leave the jars un-bothered for 24 hours. Store as long as needed, the flavor is best if used within 6 months to a year.

Holy SUGAR Batman! What’s the deal???!!! – The more sugar you use, the easier it will be to gel. I found that 3 cups is about right for a “normal” tasting preserve. Typical recipes call for 4 cups of sugar to 4 cups of smashed (high pectin) fruit. (such as raspberries) I don’t want to try and re-invent the wheel, I want something my family will enjoy in moderation. (or not… Connor seemed to think eating it with a spoon was a great idea.) If you prefer less sweetener go for it! Grapes naturally contain a great deal of pectin however, you may need to simmer (and stir) longer than mentioned.

Seedless is big news when it comes to making jams, I hate seeds. I hate extra work. After all, I am making my own jam why double the work? Find black, dark grapes of any variety and if you can not find seedless: Refer to this step-by-step guide to Concord Grape Jam