Sunday, September 22, 2013

Concord Grape Jam

Can you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without grape jelly or jam?  Sure, other flavors like strawberry are okay, but nothing compares to grape.  It just works best.  At least that's the consensus at my house. 

That being said, when you start to make your own jellies and jams, it is difficult to make a sandwich (or anything else using jam, for that matter) with anything other than homemade.  I had been putting off making grape jelly because I just don't like the process of making jelly (too time consuming and laborious for me), but that also meant I was constantly having to consider purchasing grape jelly in the supermarket.  

Grape pulp with seeds
I usually didn't which led to many inferior sandwiches.  That is, until I decided to try grape jam instead.  If you've never tried grape jam, you must.  Like right away.  It is so easy, sets beautifully, and has a great consistency.  Jelly-like but with a little more texture, it does not have chunks of grape as peach would have chunks. Instead the grapes are pressed through a sieve to achieve the proper consistency.  

Grape skins ready to be ground in food processor
Grape pulp being pushed through a chinois to remove seeds
Since making this jam, it is a little scary to admit that we have already eaten two jars.  This jam can also be used in any number of desserts where jam would be appropriate.  Thumbprint cookies, jam filled muffins, oatmeal jam bars (I will try to post a recipe for these soon)...the list could go on and on.

Concord Grape Jam- makes approximately 9 half-pints

4 pounds Concord grapes (other varieties will work also)
1 cup water
7 cups granulated sugar
1 box powdered pectin (1.75 oz)

Prepare canner, jars, and lids.  Sort, wash, and remove stems from four pounds of grapes.  

Squeeze the skins off the grapes, and separate skins and pulp into separate bowls.  

Place pulp (will still contain seeds at this point) in a medium pot with 1 cup water.  Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.  Press the pulp mixture through a fine mesh sieve or chinois (conical strainer on a stand with a pestle) to separate the pulp from the seeds and to break the pulp down.  Set aside.  

In a food processor, puree all or part of the grape skins.  The amount you use is up to you and the color you hope to achieve (I used about 2 cups skins measured before pureeing).  Press the pureed skins through the sieve into the prepared pulp.  

Place the prepared grape mixture in a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Add the pectin and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Once boiling, quickly add the sugar and stir to combine.  Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute.  

Remove the jam from the heat.  Using a clean spoon, skim the foam from the top of the jam.  Ladle the jam into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims and top each with a prepared lid and ring.  Process jars 5 minutes in a boiling water bath adjusting for altitude as needed (increase processing time 1 minute for each 1000 feet).  Remove jars from the canner to a clean towel to cool completely before checking seals, labeling, and storing. 

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Apple Pie in a Jar

I love fall!  I say this every year.  Fall is the best season by far.  With its deep warm colors, comforting aromas, and cool crisp days, there is nothing like it.  Though it is technically not fall yet, to me fall arrives with the apples.  Each year my husband and I watch the websites of apple orchards in the mountains, and as soon as we know they are picking the varieties we want, we head up there.  Our first trip always yields an abundance of Honeycrisp apples which are perfectly sweet and tangy with a great crunch, but I also pick up apples for making goodies.  

We enjoy having canned pie filling on hand, so I decided to make some apple this year.  I picked up a peck of gala apples which hold their shape nicely when baked.  With some of those apples, I made four quarts of pie filling just to test the recipe.  We loved it and will definitely be making more as soon as we can get our hands on more baking apples. 

The filling is thick, gooey, and spicy and uses Clear Jel to set.  The filling is a little frustrating to get into the jars.  I ladled it in and then used a spoon to gently fill in the holes as I went.  Try to remove as many air bubbles as possible, but inevitably some will probably remain.  Don't worry about a few.  

If you have never purchased Clear Jel, you must purchase it online.  Supermarkets do not carry it.  I get mine from Kitchen Krafts, but you can also purchase it from Amazon and other sources.  The great thing about it once you purchase a bag is that it can be used when making pies from scratch as well as in other places where thickeners are needed like sauces, gravies, etc.  It is worth the purchase.  Also, this is one of those times where your jar really matters.  I found that the wide mouth jars were much easier to pack than the regular mouth.  If regular is all you have that is fine though.  It will all work the same in the end.  

The recipe below makes 7 quarts.  If you wish to make less, the calculations per jar can be found at NCHFP.  This recipe comes from that site.  I did use the recommendations from another blog (Hickery Holler Farm) to use some white sugar and some brown, and I also used apple cider rather than apple juice because that was what I had on hand.  I am adding those modifications into the recipe below.  Even though it is safe alter the type of sugar or change the quantities or types of spices, do not alter the Clear Jel or lemon juice. 

Canned Apple Pie Filling- makes 7 quarts

6 quarts good quality baking apples, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch wide
4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups Clear Jel
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cups water
5 cups apple cider (or juice)
3/4 cup bottled lemon juice

Prepare your canner.  Sterilize and warm jars, lids, and rings.  As you peel and slice apples, keep them submerged in cool water with added lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent browning.  

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Boil the apple slices for 1 minute in batches.  Drain fruit and set aside. 

In a large pot, combine white sugar, brown sugar, Clear Jel, spices, water, and apple cider.  Stir and cook on medium high heat until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble.  Add lemon juice and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Fold in the drained apple slices, and immediately fill jars with mixture leaving 1 inch headspace.  It is easiest to fill jars a little at a time so that you can use a utensil to gently push the filling into the jars to remove air bubbles as you go.  Once jars are filled, use a bubble remover to remove any remaining air bubbles and to fill any pockets created in the jars.  

Wipe the rims of the jars.  Top each with a lid and ring.  Process jars in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (for pints or quarts).  Remember to adjust accordingly if you live above 1,000 feet.  Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool completely before checking seals, labeling, and storing. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Grape Juice Concentrate

I recently found myself with more Concord grapes than I knew what to do with.  I had purchased them to make grape jam (more on that later) because apparently, according to my household, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just isn't the same with strawberry jam.  I believe this to be true also, and since I had been eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly at work (due to my lack of motivation to pack anything else), I figured grape jam would be an important addition to the pantry.  

Finished juice with a jar of concentrate in the background.  The concentrated juice darkens and becomes more flavorful over the course of about a week after canning.

Anyway, I bought too many grapes.  They were inexpensive, and since I never really have access to local grapes, I got a little carried away.  I wanted to find something easy and quick to do with the excess, and grape juice sounded like a good idea, but I really didn't want to go through the lengthy process of cooking the grapes, straining them, refrigerating them, filtering them, etc.  So, I looked around until I came across a great method for making grape juice using raw packed fresh grapes, sugar, and water.  

This method is really nothing more than canning whole grapes in a sugar syrup with the exception that you do not fill the entire jar with grapes and you add the sugar and water separately.  You can alter the amount of sugar you use, but make sure to use enough to counter the tartness of the grapes.  

You fill the jars with fresh, raw grapes, pour desired amount of sugar into the jar, and cover with boiling water.  As the jars are processed in a boiling water bath, the heat and pressure cause the grapes to split open and flavor the water.  When removed from the canner, this process will have started, but the longer the jars sit, the darker the juice gets.  If you allow it to sit for about a week, you will have a very flavorful concentrated liquid which you can then strain through cheesecloth.  Just add fresh water to this concentrate, and you have a very tasty juice.  The finished juice is sweet (but not too sweet), slightly tangy, and very refreshing.  If you prefer a weaker juice (something more akin to flavored water) simply add more water when mixing.  Either way it is delicious.   

Juice just after canning.  Notice that it is not dark yet and the sugar has not dissolved. 

A few important notes...
  • I chose to double the quantity of grapes and sugar to create a concentrate so that every time I open a quart of grapes, I can actually get around 2 quarts of juice.  I also wanted to minimize the number of quart jars I had to store.  If you prefer to make a juice that simply needs to be strained before using, use only half the grapes and sugar.  At that point, simply strain and serve (no additional water is needed). 
  • Make sure you keep cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer on hand to remove seeds and skins from your juice, and make sure you clean your grapes exceptionally well before adding them to your jars in the beginning.  There can sometimes be debris on the grapes that you don't easily notice while washing, and this can result in pieces of debris in your juice before straining.  Just wash your grapes really well.   
  • Just after processing your jars, you will notice a layer of sugar on the bottom of each.  This will dissolve over the course of the next week.  Just shake or invert your jars gently several times during the days after processing to help the sugar dissolve quicker.  
  • I read somewhere (I can't remember where) that if you put a knife or metal utensil gently inside each jar as you fill it with hot water that the utensil will absorb a lot of the heat helping prevent the jar from breaking.  Even though you should be using hot jars when packing and filling, it's not a bad idea to give this a shot anyway if you are worried about jars cracking from temperature changes.  Could be true, could be an old wives' tale.  

This recipe makes 1 quart of juice concentrate.  Just increase the quantities as needed for the number of quarts you wish to make.  The idea/method for making this juice came from Thy Hand Hath Provided.  The method is essentially the same as the method for canning whole grapes from National Center for Home Food Preservation.  The only difference is that you are not completely packing your jars with grapes, and you are using the juice rather than the grapes in the finished product.  

Grape Juice Concentrate-  makes 1 qt of concentrate/2 qts finished juice

You will need 4-5 pounds (approximately 14 cups whole grapes) to make a canner load of 7 quarts of concentrate.

2 cups whole grapes, washed well with stems removed
2/3 cup sugar 
2 pints boiling water

Sterilize and prepare quart jars for canning.  Soak lids in boiling water.  In each sterilized jar, place 2 cups whole grapes.  Cover with 2/3 cup sugar.  Add boiling water to cover leaving 1 inch headspace.  Wipe the rim of each jar before topping with a sterilized lids and rings.  Process each jar in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  Remove jars and allow to cool completely before checking seals.  

To use the Concentrate:  Strain the contents of 1 quart jar through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer (to remove seeds and skins) into a clean vessel.  Add 1 quart fresh water (you can add even more for a weaker juice).  Stir and serve chilled.    

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