Concord Grape Preserves with Deeper Flavor, and Less Sugar
It has been a crazy summer around here – lots of work outdoors, training a new puppy, doing Farmer’s Market every week, and still finding time for family visits, and getting all of our produce saved for winter. It’s not left much time for blogging I’m afraid, but now that things are getting a little calmer, I am feeling like sharing some recipes again.
The grapes that went into these marvelous Concord Grape Preserves, came from vines that Larry’s Mom planted something like 45 years ago. She can’t recall ever seeing as many grapes as we have gotten this year. No one knows why they grew so many grapes this year, which has been incredibly dry. The fact is, none of us knows a whole lot about growing grapes – except how to pick them. Once they were picked though, I knew what to do with them!
As anyone who hangs around here much can tell, I don’t care for using pectin my jams and preserves. You can use less sugar, if you skip the pectin, and I prefer the flavor and texture of preserves that are naturally reduced to the setting point. The longer cooking time allows the sugar to develop a deeper flavor that really lets the fruit flavor shine. Naturally reducing the preserves is a little more time consuming, and a little less certain than using pectin, but I always think the results are worth it.
Increasing The Natural Pectin in Concord Grape Preserves
For this recipe, I did add a tart apple to the grapes, to increase the amount of natural pectin. You often see Granny Smith apples called for in jam recipes, but any fresh, tart apple will do. In the fall, there are lots of freshly-picked apples at the market, and I used a Cortland. The apple also provides a convenient timer, as the first cooking is done when the apple is soft enough to go through the food mill. [for a handy list of equipment to help with jam making, scroll to the bottom of the post]
- About 5 pounds of concord grapes, stems removed, washed, and drained
- About 6 cups of sugar [see details of recipe to decide how much sugar to use]
- 1 tart apple
- juice of 2 lemons
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- Place the washed grapes in a 5 quart, heavy stock pot or dutch oven, and mash thoroughly with a potato masher or heavy spoon.
- Cut the apple into eights, leaving the skin and seeds intact [you want those, because they contain natural pectin]
- Turn the burner to medium, and bring the fruit up to a medium simmer, stirring frequently to prevent scorching and sticking.
- You need to stir this fairly often over the next 25 to 30 minutes - simmer until the apple is very soft.
- Remove from the heat, and a few cups at a time, run the mixture though a food mill, or push through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the seeds and skins. Try to get as much liquidy pulp through as you can.
- Measure the liquid - 5 pounds of grapes should yield about 8 cups of juice.
- Rinse out the dutch oven, and return the liquid to it.
- cups of sugar is the proper amount for 8 cups of liquid - if you have more or less, adjust the amount up or down a bit - about ¾ cup of sugar per cup of juice.
- Dump the sugar in the pot, and return it to a medium high heat.
- Stir constantly, until you can feel that the sugar has dissolved, and then very frequently, as the mixture returns to a simmer.
- Lower the heat slightly, and cook for about 20 minutes. If you want to stand right there, stirring constantly, the heat can be higher, and the time shorter,but I'm usually puttering around with other stuff in the kitchen, so I turn it down enough that I only have to stir it every 5 minutes or so.
- After 20 minutes, test the temperature with an instant read thermometer - you are shooting for between 215 to 218 degrees. If you don't have an instant read thermometer, you can put a small plate in the freezer, and test a small amount of the preserve on it - it should be fairly firm when you push it with your fingertip after a minute.
- If the temperature isn't high enough yet, simmer it for additional 5 minute increments until it is up to the proper temperature. There are so many variables to the grapes, the altitude where you live, exactly how high you have the heat under the pot - so it's impossible for me to give you an exact amount of time. Just keep cooking it, and testing it until it's where it should be.
- When it is up to temperature, add the juice of the 2 lemons, and the salt, stir thoroughly, and return to a simmer for another 5 minutes.
- The preserves are done at this point - ready for canning, or storage in the fridge. They will keep for a year if canned, and for several months in the fridge. It makes about 7 or 8 half pint jars, which is too much for us to eat in just a few months, so I can it. I give instruction for canning preserves in other recipes, and you can find those here and here.
If you are new to canning, Preserves are a good place to start. You can them using the water bath method which is a bit easier, and you don’t have to fool with a pressure canner, which some people find a bit daunting. The links for canning instructions are included in the recipe, above.
Here are links, on Amazon, to some of my favorite preserve making and canning equipment:
You need a good, heavy stock pot for lots of things – this one is a little bigger than I use, but really nice: 8 Quart Stainless Steel Stock Pot
While you can use a wire strainer to remove the seeds and skin, a food mill is much easier, and it can be used to strain tomatoes, for sauce, as well as in applesauce making, and preparing pumpkin and winter squash. You can find a lot of them on Amazon, some cheaper, some more expensive, but I have given this one, as a gift to several people, and it is worth the money: Oxo Food Mill [the one I have is no longer available]
Instead of an old fashioned granitewear canner, I use a multi-tasking stainless steel stock pot, like this one: 20 quart Heavy Duty Stock Pot
I use a round cooling rack in the bottom, so the jars aren’t sitting on the bottom. Just make sure the one you get will fit in the pan that you have. Round Cake Racks
You can get by with ordinary kitchen tools for most aspects of canning, but this is a durable set, and not very expensive, so I suggest getting one: Canning Tools Set
I do prefer a stainless steel funnel though, and this is a nice one: Choose the 5.5 inch funnel
You can find canning jars in many stores, but here is a link to an assortment on Amazon: Half Pint Canning Jars
I’m feeling the urge for second breakfast right about now!
note: this post contains one or more Amazon affiliate links and I make a small commission on your purchase.