Concord Grape Jelly

Pictures and paintings of autumn’s harvest bounty invariably feature juicy red apples, golden yellow pears, ruby red pomegranates, orange persimmons, squash of all shapes and colors, plums (plum colored?), and always clusters of gorgeous purple grapes spilling over the side of a bowl or out the side of a horn of plenty.
autumn-fruits
I associate grapes -- green and red -- with summer. Fresh, cold and not-too-sweet, they are perfect warm weather thirst quenchers (especially frozen). But strolling through our nearby French Market http://www.wilmette.com/business/frenchmarket.aspx last October I discovered generous cartons of purple Concord grapes giving off the headiest grapey fragrance. Concord grapes exist for just about one thing: homemade grape jam. And why not? I’ve made strawberry, raspberry and peach jams before, so grape jam can’t be too difficult.
Concord grape jelly 1
When I was a wee-small girl, our neighbors had grape vines camouflaging the chain link fence that surrounded their tall, narrow white house on the corner. My friends and I used to sneak hard, unripe green grapes from those vines, and ohmyGOSH were they ever tart! My mouth puckers just thinking about it. After they ripened, Mrs. Neighbor magically transformed those grapes into jelly. I had no idea how one made jelly (it was bought, at the grocery store) and imagined Mrs. Neighbor’s kitchen full of beakers and cauldrons and tubes pushing purple goop into jars. She passed along some of her finished jelly to us, and boy that goop tasted good!
Concord grape jelly 4a
So I bought a carton of those aromatic Concord grapes (about 1.5 to 2 pounds, I think), set out a few Ball jars with rings and lids, found this http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/09/21/concord-grape-jam/ recipe, and got started.
Concord grape jelly 2
Other fruit jams require removing little green tops (strawberries), peeling (peaches), or mashing (raspberries). Concord grapes require blooping -- that is, squeezing each and every grape out of it’s tasty tart purple skin (here’s an action pic from Hungry Mouse http://www.thehungrymouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/DSCN1093.jpg). Bloop! Just like that. It’s easy but a bit time consuming. Some recipes call for mashing the grapes without skinning them, some for blooping. I blooped. The blooped grapes resemble eyes of newt. http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/animals/newt-cal.jpg
Concord grape jelly 4
The skins were pulverized in a blender along with some sugar and lemon juice, resulting in a sweet, bright purple juice that I wanted to drink down on the spot.
Concord grape jelly 5
Pulverized skins and blooped grapes go into a pan for heating to a full rolling boil. Mmmm, smells amazing already.
Concord grape jelly 6
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble! No actual eye of newt http://www.potw.org/archive/potw283.html in there (nor toe of frog nor wool of bat nor tongue of dog ...) No trouble, either. Everything is bubbing along merrily in there.
Concord grape jelly 7
Cheesecloth is the traditional grape jelly strainer but my fine mesh sieve did the job. Kept all those crunchy seeds out of the smoooooth grape mixture.
Concord grape jelly 8
Now, apparently grapes have some pectin, to help the mixture set up, but mine must not have had enough. Or I didn’t boil it vigorously enough, or something. I could tell it wasn’t setting properly, so I did end up adding powdered pectin (Hungry Mouse’s recipe doesn’t call for it, but other http://allrecipes.com/recipe/concord-grape-jelly/ recipes http://www.eatingoutloud.com/2010/09/coronation-grape-jelly-recipe.html do http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cooking-live/concord-grape-jelly-recipe/index.html. After cooling it was still looser than regular jam but nicely spreadable and oh so yummy.
Concord grape jelly 9
Well look at that -- just enough for one pretty li’l jar of grape jelly, about 2 cups. Not too bad for a first try! I didn’t bother with ultra sterilization and hermetic sealing -- this jar was going straight into the fridge to chill and then back out ASAP to dally around with buttered toast. Concord grape jelly 10
And it was scrumptious -- just like eating Concord grapes off the vine but without that mouth-puckering tartness. No comparison
at all with Welch’s Grape Jelly, but possibly a rival for the original Welch’s “Grapelade” http://file.vintageadbrowser.com/l-460twb69hhgefk.jpg (“... velvety smooth, rich and delicate in flavor.” Mmmm, sounds dreamy!) I could easily see filling pockets of pie crust with this jelly and making tasty little grape tarts. Next time.

Concord grapes are uniquely American, making Concord grape jam a uniquely American treat. In fact, grape jam or jelly of any sort seems to be almost exclusively American. The grapes themselves were bred in Concord, Massachusetts around 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bulls http://kaufmann-mercantile.com/ephraim-wales-bull-and-the-concord-grape/, a self-taught horticulturist who crossed various grape types to create a variety that would ripen between the late spring thaws and early autumn frosts typical of Concord’s climate. Bull’s efforts resulted in the Concord grape, hailed around the country for its hardiness, musky fragrance and sweet flavor.

In 1869, Thomas Bramwell Welch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bramwell_Welch devised a method of pasteurizing grape juice to prevent it from fermenting into wine (he was a staunch Methodist and prohibitionist). Later, the Welch’s company developed a jam called “Grapelade” (grape + marmalade?) which evolved into their now-famous Concord Grape Jelly. Although peanut butter was not invented by an American http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcellus_Gilmore_Edson, the peanut butter making machine http://stlouiscore.com/blog/2012/04/12/i-love-peanut-butter/ was.) So when you make a good old fashioned peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwich, you are taking a bite of American history. (Don’t forget the milk!)
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