October 08, 2004

grape ape! grape ape!

My mom gave me a bunch of concord grapes this weekend, a few red ones from the backyard and a bigger pile of black ones from somewhere in the woods. You can't eat 'em, because they're pretty tart and have a very weird texture, kind of like a juicy eyeball inside a tough leather shell. But you can most definitely make jelly out of 'em. We did it last year (with moderate success) and were all fired up to do it this year.

One thing I have learned is that the black concords are WAY better than the red. The reds are good, but the black have that intense ur-grape flavor we know from Welch's fine products, and they also have the most gorgeous purple color when cooked, while the red ones get kind of drab, as you can see in the picture below. (Watch out -- the gorgeous purple stains in a flash, so don't get any on the counter or porous surfaces.)

I use the jelly recipe in the old (1975) edition of The Joy of Cooking. Annoyingly, the new edition has jettisoned the jam & jelly section entirely, which i find extra-bizarre given the popularity of Martha-type activities these days. Anyway, you crush or slice the fruit and cook it down with a tiny bit of water till it releases juice and gets all soft. The house will be permeated with the most intoxicatingly wonderful grape smell, like walking past a ripe grapevine in the woods, only ten times better. Then you strain it through a cheesecloth, just letting it sit there and drip, resisting the intense urge to squeeze the cloth to get the last precious bits of juice, because if you do, the jelly will be (*gasp* the horror!) cloudy.

Of course this makes me insane, because A) i am impatient, and B) i am greedy, and I hate the idea of wasting that lovely fruit pulp. I had the additional excuse of having only a wisp of cheesecloth left in the house the night I cooked up the fruit, so I decided to try making grape JAM instead of jelly. I scraped the pulp through a fine sieve, getting all the juice & pulp out and leaving just a pasty mess of skin & seeds. Kind of looked like I'd been mistreating a poor defenseless pomegranate.

Then back to the jelly-making procedure: I cooked the goo with a cup of sugar (uh, not enough, but also the only sugar left in the house -- i plan ahead good, eh?) until it got thickish, like jam would be if you melted it over heat. This is an improvement over last year, where I couldn't get that concept through my head and I kept waiting for it to get thicker, and in the end had jelly that was completely solid, like stiff grape jello. (I had to cut it into chunks and mix it into plain yogurt, which was actually really delicious.)

It came out pretty nice, the texture of a thick apple butter. It's got a bit of a bitterish undertaste, which I suppose is because of all the solids I forced into it. Sigh. Those old timers knew what they were doing, as usual. But it still tastes *good*, with that musky concord grapey goodness, and is certainly less sweet than most preserves, which is quite to my liking. And I'm going to make granita out of that little pool of red grape juice tomorrow.

Posted by foodnerd at October 8, 2004 01:45 AM
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