About fifteen years ago my mother travelled to New York. As an arty, fashion-conscious type, she enjoyed the galleries, the cafés the shops. She returned with marvellous presents but the one thing that has stuck in my mind was her description of grape jam, or “jelly” as it is referred to in America.
Last Sunday, Anne Mary and I both decided to make grape jam. This was a first for me. A mutual friend had sent round bulging carrier bags of grapes to both our houses. We conferred on the grape/sugar ratio and discussed the major problem. Pips. Anne Mary was going to remove them as she made the jam. I was going to simmer the grapes, with the optimistic hope that the pips would float to the surface before I made the jam. We both reckoned that the pips were important as they contain pectin. Jam needs pectin to set.
A few hours later, we compared notes. Anne Mary had spent over three hours skimming off pips and had ended up with a fragrant delicate jam. But this had been a marathon that she would never repeat. She vowed that she’d stick to grape jelly in future.
Chez Cottage Smallholder, I got bored with skimming off the pips and sieved my cooked grapes, so I lost the skins. To beef up the jam a bit I added some chopped pears. I made the mistake of using Jam Sugar (this has added pectin so the jam only needs to boil for a few minutes). This ruined any grape fragrance. Although the pear pieces tasted good the overall taste was nasty. A horrid cheap sweet flavour. My jam had taken hours to make, turning the jars as it set so that the pear pieces hung evenly in the jam. I tottered to bed at four in the morning. Danny woke to a spoonful of the stuff and after breakfast the whole batch went down the loo.
Determined not to be beaten by this, I resolved that next year I would simmer the grapes and remove the pips when the fruit was cold. I would then add the sugar and make the jam. Like gardening, I find seasonal cooking is exciting but all too often peppered with disasters. If this happens I plan an alternative method the next day, as most of my cooking takes place late at night. If the ingredients are from the last harvest, I plan for next year. Planning a year ahead is always fun as it is so far ahead that one can be a bit more experimental. It has that future generation feel.
Yesterday I opened my front door and found a second carrier bag of grapes, delivered by the same generous friend. Having bored Danny with next year’s grape jam recipe, I had no choice but to try my planned 2007 method. It worked very well. It did take half an hour to remove the pips from the kilo of simmered grapes. But the jam was so quick to set at exactly 9 minutes after the start of the rolling boil. The whole process was a doddle and produced a delicious grape jam. Keeping the skins makes a big difference. Just simmered they taste like grape skins, boiled for nine minutes they become the essential tangy element that magically transforms this jam into something rather special.
Update on October 28 2006:
I tried another method for removing the pips, as I was given 14 kilos of grapes yesterday. I’m only going to turn half into jam but couldn’t face the 3.5 hour stint of depipping seven kilos. Having washed and picked over the fruit, I put two deep stockpots side by side. I Picked up a handful of grapes in each hand, put my hands deep into the first stockpot and squeezed hard. The pips and flesh burst out if the skins. I transferred the grapes into my left hand and cleaned the skins between the fingers of my right hand, transferring the skins into stockpot two.
This has a satisfactory squelchy feel and is a much faster way of removing the pips. You end up with a stockpot full of pips and flesh and a stockpot full of skins. Add the water to the skins and simmer for about twenty minutes. Simultaneously simmer the flesh and pips until they have separated. Then sieve the flesh and pips (using a course seive) and add the flesh to the skins and proceed to point four in the method.
Fiona’s 2007 Grape Jam Recipe (Grape Jelly U.S.A.)
- 1 kilo of grapes, washed and stalks removed
- 500 ml of water
- 500 g white granulated sugar
- Wash and remove stalks from grapes. Discard any rotten ones. Put grapes in a heavy bottomed saucepan and add the water.
- Slower method for depipping: Bring slowly to boiling point and immediately turn down to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the grapes burst (about half an hour). Allow to cool completely.When cool, remove the grapes with a slotted spoon and put them into a sieve over a large bowl. A lot of pips will have dropped to the bottom of the pan. Remove as many of these as you can with a spoon and pour the rest of the grapes into the sieve. Take a small handful of grapes at a time and rub them though your fingers. Discard the pips and put the pip-free skins and pulp into the bowl with the juice. Be warned, this may take some time.
- Faster method for depipping: see update above.
- Pour the juice, skins and pulp into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Turn down the heat immediately and add the sugar. Bring slowly to the boil stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
- Allow to boil and when boiling hard set the timer for 5 minutes (this is a rolling boil).
- Test for set at 2 minute intervals. When set, use a ladle and funnel to pour into warm sterilised jars. Label when cold and store in a dark dry space.
Tips and tricks:
- Jam “set” or “setting point”?
Getting the right set can be tricky. I have tried using a jam thermometer but find it easier to use the following method:
Before you start to make the jelly, put a couple of plates in the fridge so that the warm jam can be drizzled onto a cold plate (when we make jam we often forget to return the plate to the fridge between tests, using two plates means that you have a spare cold plate). Return the plate to the fridge to cool for approx two minutes. It has set when you run your finger through it and this leaves a crinkly mark.
- My jam hasn’t set properly. What can I do?
If you think that the jelly has not set properly, you can reboil it the next day. The boiling reduces the water in the jelly. I have done this in the past. Ideally you should try for the right set the first time.
- How do I sterilise jars and lids?
The sterilising method that we use is simple. Just before making the jam, I quickly wash and rinse the jars and place them upside down in a cold oven. Set the temperature to 160c/140c for fan assisted. When the oven has reached the right temperature I turn off the heat. The jars will stay warm for quite a while. I only use plastic lined lids for preserves as the all-metal lids can go rusty. I boil these for five minutes in water to sterilise them. If I use Le Parfait jars, I do the same with the rubber rings.
Leave a reply