Sunday, September 16, 2012

Grapes of Wrath (8 Tips on How NOT to Make Concord Grape Jam)

There are few things that I despise in the cooking world, and making Concord grape jam is definitely one of them.  I love walking through the vineyard, because it conjures images of Jesus teaching his disciples while walking among the vines (I always think of John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.").  The smell of grapes in the vineyard and in the car after picking them is fresh and invigorating, a signal of impending cold weather and falling leaves.  Then, once I get home, I remember how much I loathe those beautiful, plump pieces of purple flesh.  I begin to sweat.  I begin to pray.  I search for excuses to leave the house and not come back.  That being said, I have compiled some tips (after 12 hours of hard grape labor) on how NOT to make grape jam to hopefully make your experience a little better than mine...

1.)  Do not pick more than 50-60 pounds at one time, like we did.  You will hate yourself and the person who drove you to the vineyard, as well as the manufacturer of the car.

2.) Get helpers.  LOTS of helpers.  You will need to wash the grapes, de-stem them, separate the flesh from the pulp and then cook them down and sieve them before you can even start thinking about jam.  Kids are perfect for this sweat-shop-type labor.

3.) Do not leave buckets of grapes lying around the house.  If you do, be prepared for fruit flies, and lots of them.

4.) Do not make large batches of jam.  Even when you are fatigued and just want to be done (like I was), do not give in to the temptation.  The pectin will not work and the jam will not set up.  You will lose 8 hours worth of work in 20 short minutes.  Trust me.

5.)  DO NOT alter the recipe you are using.  Make sure to start out by measuring the whole grapes, not the sieved mixture.

6.) Do a freezer plate test when your jam looks too runny - put a plate in the freezer for a few minutes, then put some jam on it.  If it congeals on the plate, you are good to go, even if the jam looks runny in the pot.

7.)  Make sure you have enough lids and jars before you start, as well as two kinds of pectin in case one doesn't work well.  That way, you don't need to go to the store twice (like my husband did).

8.) Prepare to order a pizza or some Chinese...your processing pot and grapes will take up the stove until well after dinner time, and no, you cannot stop and move them to cook.  Grapes are no respecters of persons.

I suggest these things in love, Dear Reader.  Don't get me wrong, I love the taste of the jam in the end, but, on days like today, (the day after a stressful and not that successful day of canning), it just doesn't seem worth it!  Can at your own risk (and pray a lot while you're doing it :)