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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Concord Grape Syrup

The colors of fall are deep and rich, golds and bronzes and deep russet reds. And then there are the rich purple colors of Concord grapes. Throughout my childhood, baskets of these grapes were part of the fall harves, and the smell of my mother's simmering grape juice often met us as we burst home from school on increasingly chilly afternoons. When I had the opportunity to pick more than five pounds of grapes on a trip out of town made bringing them home in my Amtrak luggage well worth the challenge.

Now that I had the grapes home, I had to get them preserved. Not grape juice or jelly--these are products that are readily available, even if the purchased kinds would never stand up to what I could make myself. No, I wanted to make something more unique, special, and still stretch it beyond just a single pie or two.

With a little research I found some promising recipes for grape jam (not jelly) online and thought I’d try that. Unfortunately, I made an early mistake.

After washing and stemming the grapes, I put them into a large pot, mashed them as directed, and, then, almost without thinking, added about a cup or two of water. Wrong. 

Diluting the fruit in this way meant that the amount of pectin available for jelling was going to be compromised, so jam was also out of the question. Still not ready to drop back to grape juice, I began to consider what to do to redeem the mistake, something that would still be "special." There seemed to be only one option still open to me.

Grape syrup.

A little more research, some trial and error, and I ended up with an incredibly full flavored syrup that brings back the flavor and aroma of fall whenever I open the jar. Still, what was I going to do with pints of grape syrup? 

Actually, this is a pretty versatile liquid, with the following as examples for its use:
  • Grape yogurt:  In fact, I put a cup of yogurt into the cup I had used to ladle the syrup into canning jars, and the result was incredibly flavorful.
  • Grape sherbet/sorbet:  There are so many recipes on line for either of these desserts, and I see them as easily adaptable to this syrup
  • Smoothies of all kinds
  • Syrup for pancakes and waffles—probably will want to mix with honey or add a little more sugar and boil briefly to reach a more syrupy consistency—or maybe a bit of cornstarch?
  • As an ingredient in an autumn marinade for roast pork or even chicken thighs
  • In a dressing, similar to a raspberry vinagrette

So here is how I made the syrup:

Grape Syrup

2 quarts stemmed and washed Concord grapes (see NOTE about NOT increasing the size of this recipe)
1 to 2 c water
6 cups sugar
¼ c lemon juice (I used ReaLemon)

1.  Place the grapes in a large pot. Mash with a potato masher to crush most or all of the grapes. Add the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat slightly and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until the grapes are very soft.

2.  Scoop the grape mixture into a food mill and press the mixture through the mill. (If you do not have a food mill for food preservation, you can use a colander with small holes or even a relatively coarse sieve.) You will want to get pulp as well as juice to give the syrup a nice body.

3.  Compost the thick parts left in the food mill or colander and then return the strained grapes to the pot. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and heat the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat a bit if the grape syrup begins to splatter.
 
4.  Continue cooking the mixture for about 30 to 35 minutes, allowing it to thicken somewhat. If foam forms on the top of the syrup, you may choose to ladle this off into a bowl. (The foam is a wonderful way to "test" your syrup; stir a little of it into plain yogurt or save it for tomorrow morning's pancakes or French toast.)

5.  While the grape syrup is cooking, wash four or five pint jars and lids and keep warm in a pan of hot water at the back of the stove. Heat more water in a water bath canner or pot large enough to immerse your jars in water about an inch over the top. Have a wood cutting board or a thick towel laid on the counter for protecting the hot jars from coming into contact with a cold counter. 

6.  Ladle the syrup into the jars--I use a large coffee mug for this rather than an actual ladle. Wipe the edges of the jars if needed to avoid any drips that could keep the jar from sealing.
7.  When all the jars are closed and the water in the water bath canner is boiling, put the jars into the canner and begin timing when the water has returned to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes.

8.  Turn the heat off and remove the jars from the hot water, again placing them on a wood cutting board or towel. Allow to cool thoroughly before labeling.

NOTE:  This recipe made about 3 1/2 pints. Since I had another 4 cups of grapes, I made a second, smaller batch (cooking it only about 25 minutes after adding the sugar) and then processed all five jars at once. It is better to do a couple of smaller batches rather than trying to increase the amount made at once, because the extended cooking time for larger amounts will decrease the fresh flavor that you want to preserve here.






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