CONCORD GRAPE JELLY
I love Concord Massachusetts and its illustrious grape. There are many wonderful things about this small historic town northwest of Boston. Full disclosure first: I am partial to Concord, as I was born there. Think of Concord’s gifts: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond, Nathaniel Hawthorn and Paul Revere’s ride immortalized by Longfellow.
But closest to my heart is Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House where she grew up and wrote Little Women. I took my daughter there this summer on a literary pilgrimage. I was pleased to discover that the Concord grape was actually cultivated on a farm right next door to the Alcott’s house. Ephraim Bull (why don’t people have names like that any more?) was their neighbor who in 1849 using native species bred a grape hearty enough for the cold New England climate. I like to think of Louisa and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth and Abigail (Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg) sampling Mr. Bull’s grapes as they ran through the meadows surrounding Orchard House.
Do not confuse this jelly with the Welch’s grape jelly of your childhood. Concord grapes produce a slightly musky jelly which when made with a reasonable amount of sugar, has a dense sophisticated flavor. It’s gamey and foxy, somewhat akin to one of my other favorite New England jellies, beach plum.
I use my “go to ratio” of one of cup juice to ¾ cup sugar. Be sure to include some under ripe grapes for both their tartness and their pectin. To further balance the sweetness of the grapes I sometimes add savory elements. I like to flavor the jelly with peppercorns, red wine and thyme.
- scant 4 cups
- 4-5 lbs concord grapes
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 3 cups sugar
- Wash grapes and remove stems discarding any overripe grapes. Combine wine and grapes in a large non-reactive pot. Cook over low heat mashing a bit. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium, continue cooking for 10 minutes.
- Carefully transfer to a moistened jelly bag or cheesecloth set in a strainer. Let drip eight hours. Do not squeeze bag or push down on the grapes or you will get cloudy jelly!
- Let juice sit overnight in the refrigerator and pass through a moistened jelly bag one more time to remove all the sediment.
- Measure the juice; you should have about 4 cups. For every cup of juice add ¾ cup of sugar. Place in a large saucepan and over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium high and boil stirring constantly and skimming as needed. Watch carefully, cook until jelly is set 10 -15 minutes.
- Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in a hot water bath 10 minutes. Label and enjoy.
- Add a few sprigs of thyme or one sprig of rosemary and 8 peppercorns to the juice in step 4. Put them in a tea ball or tied up in cheesecloth. Remove before straining.
- Add 6 cardamom pods to the juice in step 4. Put them in a tea ball or tied up in cheesecloth. Remove before straining.
- Beware; this stuff stains like all get out! Wear black while making it.
- Keep some moist cloths or sponges nearby, as it will also stain your counter tops and anything else it touches if you don’t wipe it up immediately.
- If you are fussy about your enameled pots (like Le Creuset), which have light interiors, do not use them, as they will stain.
- Do not worry about the cloudy residue on the grapes, it's natural.
- This recipe is for concord grapes only, use other varieties at your own risk.