Until I moved here, I never gave it a thought.
Never ate it, didn’t crave it.
How things change.
Where we live is not typical grape-growing country. The winters are too cold and the summers are too short. Like cherries, I thought this was a fruit for a more temperate clime. That is, until I moved and found both cherries and grapes in my backyard.
Well-established Manitoba grape vines engulf the end of our garage each year. In spring, bees pollenate tiny red blooms which become tiny grapes. Each grape is about the size of a currant. The grapes have large seeds and they are SOUR, so jam is the best use for them so that the small harvest can be used to the fullest.
When I took down the vines this year, a few grapes hadn’t fully ripened. This, I found out, was a good thing: the green grapes have more pectin which allows the jam to set. As the grapes ripen, the enzymes responsible for their deep purple colour break down the pectin. Hence, all the grapes can be used and while the purple grapes contribute colour and flavour, the green grapes will gel the mixture – synergistic diversity!
As you can see, there aren’t many grapes. To make even a small amount of jam, I need more grapes. Since serenading the vines and entreating them to produce more don’t have much effect, off to the store I go. Spying a small flat of champagne grapes, I brought them home and began work.
Both kinds of grapes were washed and kept separate – I need to do different things to them in order to combine them in jam.
First, the champagne grapes had to be plucked carefully, discarding any shrivelled fruit. They will sit in a bowl to the side until later.
Next comes the fun part. WEAR A BIB! I usually adorn myself with tea towels from neck to ankle because Manitoba grapes stain with almost the same efficiency as turmeric. Today I forgot and my clothes will have to be relegated to the wear-only-to-the-backyard section of the closet. Here’s why: The grape skins add so much colour and flavour that they are essential to the jam. They have to be skinned. This is easy to do: just put one grape between two fingers as if you were going to snap your fingers and then gently squeeze. The insides pop right out!
Your fingers WILL look like your vocation has changed to that of an axe-murderer. Can’t be helped. At least that stain doesn’t last too long – take pictures to send to your friends with interesting poses and maniacal expressions while you can!
Now that the Manitoba grape insides are in the saucepan, I set the temperature to medium-low and let them come to a boil. As soon as that happens, I set a timer for 5 minutes and let it go. At the end of the 5 minutes, something magical has happened – the grape seeds are completely separate from the pulp. The pulp is soft now too, so this is the ideal time to strain everything, pushing the pulp through the strainer so that most of the grape will be in the jam. Throw the juice and pulp back into the saucepan and discard the seeds and pulp that stayed in the strainer.
Now the Manitoba grape skins and the champagne grapes can go in the saucepan. Again, set the temperature to medium low and bring it to a boil. Let it rumble for 5 minutes. While the jam is just fine with the grape skins intact, it is a bit of a challenge to spread later, so out came my trusty immersion blender. A minute later, I had this:
There were about 6 cups of grapes combined. The blended mixture above made about 3 cups. To this, I added 1 cup of white sugar. I like the jam a bit tangy.
Now it is time to boil the jam until it is done. Maybe this is easy to tell for some people. They say the best test is to see when the jam rolls off your spoon like a sheet thickly rather than thinly like a syrup. How can it do that when it is boiling? I can’t say. Personally, I wait to see the bubbles get bigger and lazier – like it takes Herculean effort to dance in the pan. THEN I usher it into small jars to go in the refrigerator:
On special occasions, feed this elixir to your loved ones. What better way to tell them they are special without ever saying a word?