I'm need to wrap up the last of the goodies I made at my Grandma's house in Wisconsin earlier this month.
For as long as I can remember, my Grandma has made wonderful grape jelly and jam. I think the secret ingredient is the Concord grapes that her Dad, known to our family as "Big Bob," planted 62 years ago. There are actually vines in two different areas of Grandma's yard, and they seem to alternate years when they produce a lot of grapes.
Uncle Bob and I picked a lot of grapes, but a lot were still green, so we weren't sure we'd have enough ripe grapes for a good batch of jam. But I'm glad to report we did!
The first step was washing the grapes, plucking them off the stems, and discarding the green ones. Grandma and I did this together. Her method is to fill the left side of the sink with cold water and swish around the grapes. Pick them off the stems and put them in a colander in the right side of the sink. Plunk the green grapes and the stems into a pan (throw them away later). This was kind of a tedious job and I'm glad I didn't have to do it by myself!
Grandma says the best time to do this is a day ahead, so the grapes can dry thoroughly.
On jelly-making day, Aunt Pat came over to help us. She and I had a lot of laughs -- any cooking task is more enjoyable with good company!
We washed the jars and then put them in the oven to sterilize.
Grandma's recipe has just two ingredients -- Concord grapes and sugar, in equal amounts. Our first batch was 8 cups of Concord grapes (packed firmly into the measuring cup) and 8 cups of sugar. I know that sounds like a ton of sugar, and it is, but I realized why it called for so much sugar when I tasted one of the grapes. They are very tart!
The photo above is what the mixture looked like when we first put it in the pot. It looked like we used some green grapes, but those are really the grape innards that had separated from the skins when we plucked them from the stems.
Bring this mixture to a "hard boil," which means it has a lot of bubbles that don't go away when the mixture is stirred.
Then you let it boil, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes. Then we processed it through a food mill. The jam dripped into the bowl and we discarded the solids.
Then we returned the mixture to the pot and boiled it for awhile longer (10 - 15 minutes?). Every so often Grandma would use a spoon to see if the jam coated the spoon and looked thick as it dripped off the spoon. Eventually she pronounced it done.
After that, we ladled the jam into jars. Grandma doesn't have a canning funnel so it was quite a mess. (I have one that I have never used -- I wish I had brought it with me!)
Then we poured hot paraffin on top of the jam. I'm don't think paraffin is currently the recommended canning method but that's the way Grandma has always done it and it hasn't ever made anyone sick. But do this at your own risk! Once the paraffin was hard, we washed off the jam that dripped on the jars and put on the tops. (I am keeping all of my jars of jam in the refrigerator to be on the safe side.)
We repeated this whole process a second time with the rest of the grapes, and in the end we had about 17 jars of jam. We divided it among the three of us. It is grape-y and delicious and not as sweet as you'd imagine with all that sugar! I think of Grandma every time I use it and I'm glad I was able to spend some time with her.