September 22, 2008

The nitty gritty of making grape jelly

Though it may look like one, this is not your standard PB&J. This is a sandwich with hours of work behind it. The bread is 100% whole wheat from a King Arthur recipe. The butter is organic cashew butter. And the jelly is from Concord grapes growing on chain-link in a suburban garden outside of Detroit, Michigan.

My father in law (Papou, Greek for grandpa) has a prolific garden that he kindly shares. The first fruit of the fall that comes in abundance is his Concord grapes. The grape vines cover the entire back side of their fenced yard. I've skipped making jelly for a few years and instead just made a few small batches of juice but after reading about Pomona's Pectin on Modern Beet I decided it was time to get back on the jelly wagon. Pomona's Pectin is a citrus-derived pectin that uses calcium to jell eliminating the need for excessive sugar. I had to give it a try.

Alex and I got busy picking one sunny afternoon and picked 24lbs of Papou's grapes. Yes, you read that correctly: 24 pounds! I cleaned up my kitchen, scrubbing down the sink and started a juice making assembly line. Grapes get washed in copious amounts of water, drain, stems are removed, they're weighed out (3.5 lbs of grapes + 1/2 cup water for each batch), smashed, brought to a boil, simmered 10 minutes, and then strained. For years I have done the straining with layers of cheesecloth but smartly decided that this was the year to buy the jelly bag and holder. Thank goodness I did! It made an onerous task a lot easier. After straining, I filled the sink with ice water to speed chill the juice. This is the same method you would use if you were cooling off a large batch of hot stock. You set the pot of juice into the ice water and stir until it is cool. The chilled juice went into the fridge to settle. Grape juice has a large amount of tartaric acid. It's where they get cream of tartar. Overnight crystals of tartaric acid form and they will make for crunchy jelly and juice if you don't strain them off. Ideally it should set for 24-48 hours but I had the Epicurean Classic to go to.

The next day I followed Pomona's recipe for honey-sweetened jelly using local star thistle honey. I also made a low sugar batch. Pomona's low sugar recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar per 4 cups of juice maximum, Sur-jel and Certo recipes are both 7 cups!! I also canned (IE bottled in a jar) plain juice. The most interesting experiment for me was an attempt at making Concord grape kombucha. I started drinking GT's Kombucha over a year ago and got John hooked on it too. I've been reading Wild Fermentation, a book about cultured foods, and I wanted to try growing my own kombucha mushroom. I threw a bottle of GT's Kombucha into a large jug of juice. It did ferment nicely but doesn't seem to be forming a mushroom/mother. I guess I'm going to have to buy one online. I've been drinking it watered down over ice and it's wonderful!

To see more of the process scroll through the pictures I took. For the record my 24lbs of grapes equaled 9 quarts of juice with 7.5 pounds of must (skins and seeds) and 1.5 pounds of stems. Recipes for the jelly can be found at Pomona's Pectin. I used the directions from Pick your own for the canned juice. My go-to recipe for whole wheat bread is from King Arthur Flour. My advice if you want to play with Concord grapes: wear gloves and clothes you'd paint in. Your mom was right not to let you drink the stuff on the carpet.
My son Alex picking Concord grapes Mashed grapes ready to cook
The leftovers, they make your compost smell great
Straining the seeds and skins from the juice
The tartaric acid crystals clinging to the pot,
they are beautiful with a refractive quality like mica
Polishing the juice to remove as many crystals as possible
Sleeping Bear Farms star thistle honey, calcium water
and the honey mixed with the Pomona's Pectin
The finished jars, more juice was in the fridge
and on the counter becoming kombucha Abbie thought this was a very dull bit of cooking.
She napped on my chair the entire time.
More to come from Papou's garden, the quince will be ripe in a couple more weeks!!
Please share any quince recipes you have.