Concord Grape Jawn

This one’s a ‘tweener.

Not really a jelly, since I’m too lazy to strain it a second time. And not really a jam, since I’m too lazy to pinch the skins off each berry so they don’t get filtered out with the pips when cranked through the food mill.

Why’s that? Because I’m also too lazy—or maybe just too laissez faire—to tend much to my fenceline grape vines. See, they’re as much for privacy as for fruit, which means I don’t prune like I should. Nor do I thin the clusters. If I took the time each spring to pull the bottom sections off each bunch, I’d get much larger fruit. Oh, well.

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For the first time in years, the birds have actually left me with a decent harvest. Here, you see both Concords (the nearly black grapes) and their related green varietal, Niagra.

This non-jelly/non-jam jawn, though, couldn’t be easier. You just need three ingredients (grapes, sugar, and lemon juice)—and a food mill. The hardest part is plucking all the berries off the stems, but fire up a podcast and you won’t even know 45 minutes has passed.

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Small-Batch Concord Grape Jawn

Yield will vary with the size and water content of your grapes. For me, this last batch filled two half-pint jars. I always prep an extra jar and lid just in case (fingers crossed) there’s any overflow to be enjoyed right away. Hat tips to Food in Jars and How to Pick a Peach for the techniques. 

  • 1 quart de-stemmed and washed Concord grapes (for my wee berries, that was about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • 1 to 1-1/2 c sugar
  • juice of one small lemon

Put the loose grapes in a medium saucepan with 3-4 tablespoons of water. Bring the pot to simmer, stirring occasionally until most of the berries have split their skins. Shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

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See? They’re little grapes. But my goodness, they’re mighty.

This next bit can be messy, so to protect my countertop, I lay out my largest cutting board, and to protect my clothing, I wear my rattiest apron. Working with a few ladle’s worth at a time, run the grapes through a fine-screened food mill, discarding the solids (I keep a separate bowl going for the compost).

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I bought this OXO Good Grips food mill about 10 years ago, and it’s still going strong.

Once you’ve ground through all the grapes, pour the juice into a measuring cup so you can figure out how much sugar you need.

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Don’t miss the tannin- and pectin-rich goo on the underside of the mill plate.

Normally, when I make preserves with fruit solids or pulp, I go with a 3:2 fruit:sugar ratio—and I measure by weight not by volume. But when I’m dealing with a liquid, I just find it easier to eyeball the volume in a Pyrex pitcher.

My 4 cups of grapes yielded 2-1/2 cups of juice, and since the grapes were already super-sweet to my palate, I dropped the sugar to 50% of the total volume, or 1-1/4 cups. If you’re nervous at all about getting a good set* (or about how long the preserve will last once opened), use more sugar (up to 2/3 the volume of your fruit juice).

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Add the grape juice, lemon juice, and sugar to a wide, shallow, non-stick pan (not essential, but way easier to clean up). Crank the heat up to medium high, and bring everything to a running boil.

In my experience, grapes send up more foam than most fruit. If that bothers you (it does me), carefully skim off that layer. Let the fruit mixture cook for 15-20 minutes total, until it reaches 220ºF on a candy thermometer—or passes the cold-plate test. Ladle the preserves into prepared jars and affix the lids. Process the jars in a boiling-water canning bath for 10 minutes or leave them on the counter to cool before you store them in the fridge.

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*Here’s another tip for nudging along a firmer set without added pectin. Slip the skins off a good-sized handful of grapes (this isn’t nearly as tedious as it sounds—both Concord and Niagra are “slip-skin” grapes whose skins easily pinch apart from the pulp and pips). Purée the skins and add them to your milled fruit juice. I often do use some of my Niagras for this purpose because they’re bigger and easier to work with (and a few tablespoons of green grape skin will not alter the color of your deep purple preserve at all). If your Concords are normal, commercial size, though, just save out a handful and use those.

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