Sunday, August 10, 2014

Recipe: QT's "I-did-it-MY-way" Grape Jam (using a Tomato Press)

Gonna start-out rambly (Surprise!), but I'll get to the recipe soon enough!

Our backyard is a veritable treasure trove of tasty snacks throughout the growing season!  I especially enjoy the "Surprise" harvests that come from plants that I had long-since forgotten!

Take my grapes, for example...  Shortly after I moved in here - I'm gonna guess maybe 2001-2002-ish - I'd planted a couple of bare-root grape vines out by the back-fence.  I wanna say that they were some variety of wine-grape - but damned if I can remember now, right?!

Yeah, so over time, one of the grape vines seems to have disappeared, and the other one has grown quite vigorously - without me even realizing it! (to be fair, it is tucked away in a corner where we rarely venture!).  Last year, I think I picked a couple of small bunches of grapes - and promptly ate 'em!

But this year, imagine my surprise when I stumbled onto this:

Whoa!  Forgot about you! (July 19th)

Nevermind that the vine has grown completely over the fence, and those grapes that were approaching ripeness were up at the top of the fence (which has got to be, like, seven feet tall!).  There were also several bunches on the OUT side of the fence (I'm sure the passers-by are enjoying them!).

In any event, I think there will be some *serious* grape-vine pruning this winter!

Yeah, so, I went ahead and harvested as many grapes as I could reach, and ended up with a respectable basket's worth:

Couple pounds' worth, anyway...

So what on earth can I do with a couple pounds worth of grapes?  Not much!  They're not very nice as table grapes.  Not sure if they're "wine" grapes or not - but they're kinda like smallish Concord Grapes (thick skins, you have to pinch 'em to get the innards out, and the innards contain large-ish seeds).  Ehh, let's just call 'em Concord Grapes, k?

Squeeze 'em for juice?  Meh!

Ohhhhh, let's just try to make jam  (NOT jelly!) - shall we?  Followed by the usual refrain "Ohhhhhh Gooooooogle!"

I have to say that, while Google gave me LOTS of websites and recipes and YouTube videos and yada-yada for making Concord Grape Jelly and/or Jam, they all looked like a BOATLOAD of work and/or required "Special" (read: Expensive) equipment.  I do have a Big-@$$ Juicer, but it's the "centrifugal" type that can obliterate a whole apple in 1.5 seconds-flat.  I think grapes are better suited for "squeezy/squishy" types of juicers (which I do not own).  

The websites that didn't require funky-juicers called for separating the grapes from the peels - by hand - which seemed about as appealing as banging my thumb, repeatedly, with a hammer!

I do have a Foley Food Mill (honestly, not my favorite tool), along with assorted wire-strainers.  I also have an Italian Tomato Press (Affiliate Link) - which I wouldn't live without!  I *love* this gizmo and have used it every year to squeeze out tomato gooze without having to boil/blanch/peel the 'maters.  It does a damn good job of separating the skins and *most* of the seeds, leaving just the meaty/juicy tomato bits for freezing or saucing or canning (or all-of-the-above!).

I tried Googling "Use Tomato Press On Grapes" but didn't find any useful info...

Guess there's only one way to find out if this is gonna work, right?!

So first-up, I think I'm gonna need more grapes:

I feel like such a FRAUD!

I bought a few pounds of these Thomcord Grapes (quite tasty, by the way, and mostly-seedless).  Then I rinsed and de-stemmed ALL of the grapes (including mine!) until I had appx 4-1/2 pounds.  

Then I dumped 'em into my large dutch oven, added 2 TBS of bottled lemon juice, and started heating them up on medium-low heat 'til they started to get kinda smushy (not long - maybe five minutes?).  Turned-off the stove, then I used a potato masher to start smashing 'em up.

There is no way to fully-gush the grapes with a potato masher, so I let 'em cool-down a bit, then I ran them through my tomato press:

It's working!!!

Now let me say a few things about the press.  It's surprisingly good construction (mostly plastic, though).  It sticks to the countertop by way of a suction cup/foot thingie (and it holds EXTREMELY well).  You drop the fruit into the top of the hopper, then turn the crank handle.  There's a wheelie-bobber that sucks the fruit down, then forces it through a metal screen.  There's a chute - over on the left-hand side - where the GOOD grape-gooze comes out.  That chute in the middle of the front is where the skins and seeds blorp-out.  You can run the skin/seed glorp back through the machine and squeeze out ALL of the goodness.  Unfortunately, my only complaint is that the machine does tend to leak a bit of juice out through the crank-handle.  It's unavoidable, so, you see that wad of purple paper towels over by the handle?  Yeah, you're gonna want to do the same!

Run the Seeds/Skins back through the machine 'til they come out pretty dry.
Then toss it into your compost!


Grapey-Goozy Mess on the Countertop!

So yeah - after that, dump your Grape Gooze back into the Dutch oven and start to heat it up on Medium to Medium-High...

Next, you'll give it a taste to figure out how much sweetener you're gonna need.  And you'll mix the sweetener with some pectin - in a dry bowl - before mixing it into the Grape-Pot (Sorry - I didn't take pictures through this stage!)  I ended up using 1-1/2 cups of C&H Light (might also be called Truvia Baking Blend - it's basically a 50/50 mix of Stevia and Granulated Sugar), and I added about half a cup of granulated Splenda.  To the dry sweetener, I added appx 3 TBS of Ball Low/No-Sugar Pectin and mixed it well, with a fork (otherwise the pectin will clump when it hits the grape pot).

Once the sweeteners and pectin are fully incorporated, bring the pot to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly, then check for "set."  If it's not set properly, mix another TBS of pectin with a TBS of sweetener and add it to the pot (then boil hard for another minute).

Once it's set-up properly, pour into sterilized jars and process in a water bath (or steam) canner for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the canner and let 'em sit, undisturbed, on a towel for 24 hours.  Make sure they're all sealed (lid doesn't pop-up when you press the middle).  If a jar did not seal properly, you can re-process it - or just stick it in the fridge and eat it first!

All Done!

Oh My GAWD this is *mighty* tasty jam!  I've honestly never been a fan of Grape Jelly (doesn't shmear properly on your PB&J sammiches!).  This is most definitely a nice shmeary kinda jam - and it tastes DIVINE!  

The only downside is that a few teensy-tinesy seed-bits did remain in the jam (probably because the Thomcord grapes do have tiny seed-like bits).  This may have been because I ran the skins/seeds back through the press 2-3 times, or maybe I should have attempted to run it through a wire strainer (or cheesecloth) - but I don't find the seedlets to be *that* annoying!

All told - after reading all those other recipes for Grape Jams - I'm pretty happy with my "Lazy" Method!

So - to recap:

QT's "I did it MY way" Grape Jam (Reduced Sugar)
Yield: 8 half-pints of jam

  • 4-1/2 lbs of rinsed, de-stemmed Concord Grapes
  • 1-1/2 cups Stevia/Sugar baking blend
  • 1/2 cup granulated Splenda
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS Ball Low/No-Sugar Pectin
  1. Rinse and de-stem your grapes.  Warm 'em in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat.
  2. Heat until they start to soften, then mash 'em (as best you can) using a potato masher.
  3. Turn off heat and allow to cool.
  4. Feed the grapes through a Tomato Press.  Run the "discards" (skin/seeds) back through the press 2-3 more times.
  5. Pour the grape-guts back into the dutch oven, turn heat up to medium/medium-high
  6. Combine dry sweeteners with pectin, pour into the grape pot and stir til well-incorporated.
  7. Bring pot to a rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
  8. Check for "set"
  9. Pour into sterilized jars
  10. Process for 10 minutes
  11. ENJOY!

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