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Conquering Concord Grape Jelly

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I have this thing I do when I've been really careless and stupid, I force myself to suffer the consequences. Not in a creepy, masochistic way but in a kind of you-break-it-you-buy-it way. Like three years ago I threw out my wallet. Not on purpose of course but a rainy day, a broken, wet grocery bag and being late to a train all conspired to derail my attention. That's how I found myself in my building's basement up to my elbows clawing my way through 20 industrial size garbage bags in the hopes of finding my black Marc Jacobs wallet. You have no idea how disgusting other people are until you've rooted through their trash.

No wallet. So, as punishment for my idiocy, I went online and bought the cheapest, ugliest pink wallet I could find. Think Malibu Barbie goes small leather goods shopping in a Fort Lauderdale hotel gift shop. I carried the wallet for 2 years.

Recently I thought I'd make an autumnal and local fruit salad. Feeling virtuous for taking my re-usable bag to the farmer's market, I picked out a gorgeous box of deep purple Concord Grapes sitting under a "seedless" sign. I thought they'd make a beautiful color contrast to the yellows, greens and mottled reds of the apples and pears I had also purchased. Except first of all, they turned out to be filled with seeds and second of all, have you ever tasted a plain concord grape? It is like the grapiest most intense and sour experience you could imagine. They are just too much. What was I thinking?

I refused to waste the $5.00 I'd spent on them and decided to find a recipe using my stupid purchase. I thought about Concord Grape Pie for which there were tons of experts from New England all over the internet. But then I realized who in the world is going to want to eat that? Then I thought about the only thing that might appeal to my familial customers -- grape jelly! I actually hate grape jelly and whenever they put those little packets on my side of wheat toast I ask the diner waiter to please replace them with orange marmalade or strawberry (which they always have by the way and you should totally ask for it). I'd never made jelly or jam before and I thought I'd tap into my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder (minus the outhouse and plus the manicure) and get my pioneer on! After doing my due diligence I bought the requisite equipment: 4 jelly jars, a box of pectin and a pack of cheese cloth ($12.01 at Gracious Home). I already had the sugar and consulted The Good Housekeeping Cookbook on how to improvise a boiling water canner. I was good to go. Or so I thought.

Early on a Sunday morning I started my project. I smashed the grapes and added the correct amount of water. And then I mistakenly added the sugar. I had screwed up the grape juice part of the recipe, had to start all over again and had no grapes. So at 9:30 a.m. I ran to the fruit market and bought another box of the grapes ($3.99 at Fairway). Okay, starting again I did it right this time and poured the hot grape mess into my make shift 'jelly bag' -- cheesecloth fastened around a bowl with a rubber band.

After the two hours all I had was a little over a cup of juice. The recipe called for five.

Meanwhile, I had to wash and sterilize the jelly jars in my dishwasher so they would still be hot when it was time to fill them. They sat on a dish towel at the ready. I put a cake sized cooling rack in the bottom of a stock pot, filled it with water and got that boiling -- my improvised canner. Then I cooked the juice with the pectin and the sugar, and when it was ready I ladled ($3.99 at Gartner's Hardware for the ladle I also had to run out to get) the purple liquid into the awaiting jelly jars. Yup, didn't need to buy four, I only filled two.

Using a pot holder I put the jars in the boiling water bath, put the lid on the pot and prepared to wait the required 10 minutes. Except that the water boiled up and over the pot, flooding the cook top and making the worst sizzling sound. I tried to move it and all I did was slosh boiling water everywhere, narrowly avoiding third degree burns. I grabbed a measuring cup and bailed out cups of water, screwing up the whole 'make sure the jars are covered by two inches of water' instruction. But, finally things calmed down. After the 10 minutes I used rubber gloves to pull the jars out of the water and put them back on the dishtowel where they were to sit for 12-24 hours to allow them to set. And then I heard the best sound. Like the opposite of when you open a new jar of pickles -- even with the mishap I'd managed to create a vacuum seal!

The next morning I was amazed -- both jars had indentations at the top of their lids. Then I gently shook the jars and I had done it -- jelly!

Although I would still choose strawberry over grape the taste of this jelly was wonderful and the satisfaction was more powerful than I'd ever imagined. Most importantly my niece, who literally eats peanut butter and grape jelly for lunch every day, pronounced it "awesome!" Definitely worth the punishment. And $21.99.

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Conquering Concord Grape Jelly
Adapted from Recipe Insert in Ball Pectin Package
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Click here for more detailed photos

Equipment
1 package cheesecloth
1 large bowl
2 Sterilized Ball 8 ounce jelly jars, bands and lids -- (NOTE* to sterilize run through dishwasher and keep hot and dry in machine)
1 large, high pot with lid
1 cooling rack to fit in large pot
1 medium pot
Ladle
Tea Kettle
Pair heavy rubber gloves or malleable pot holders

Before beginning prep the following:
Double a large piece of cheesecloth and drape over the large bowl. Secure with rubber band around bowl.

Ingredients
1 Quart Concord Grapes
½ cup water
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 heaping Tablespoon Ball Original Fruit Pectin

Directions
Remove grapes from stems and place in large pot
Smash grapes with potato masher or back of large spoon
Add water and simmer 10 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally
Remove from heat and pour into cheesecloth lined bowl -- let juice drip at least 2 hours or overnight
(Clean large pot to use again for makeshift boiled water canner-set aside)
Carefully remove cheesecloth
Pour grape juice into medium size pot. Set aside.

Prepare makeshift canner
Fill large pot with water and bring to a simmer. Also fill kettle and heat -- in case you need extra hot water.
Remove Ball Jelly jars lids and bands from dishwasher and place on folded dishtowel next to cook top.

Back to jelly making:
Gradually stir pectin into medium pot containing grape juice.
Bring mixture to full rolling boil that can't be stirred down, over high heat, stirring constantly.
Add sugar, stirring to dissolve. Return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
Ladle hot jelly into hot jars leaving ¼" headspace.
Clean rim and threads of jars using clean, damp cloth to remove any residue.
Center hot lids on jars, allowing sealing compound to come in contact with jar rim.
Apply bands and adjust until fit is tight.

Place filled jars into large pot of simmering water, add hot water from kettle so water comes 1"-2" above the jars.
Bring water to gentle steady boil.
Leave jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Turn off heat and let jars sit in water for 5 minutes.
Using pot holders/heavy rubber gloves remove jars from water and place on dish towel, leave undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

After 24 hours check lids for seal. Lids should not flex up and down when pressed. If they do, refrigerate jelly and consume within three weeks. If they don't TA-DA, you just made jelly!!

Around the Web

Concord Grape Jam Recipe at Epicurious.com

Concord Grape Jam Recipe | MyRecipes.com

Concord Grape Jam | Healthy Green Kitchen

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