Sunday, October 10, 2010
Have you ever done anything completely on a whim? The other day, I was driving home after visiting family in Wisconsin, and I stopped at Bauder's Market in La Crescent, MN, to buy a bag of apples. And to my delight, I discovered a table full of Concorde grapes. Grapes!
I've been wanting to make homemade grape jelly ever since I started learning more about Iowa's grape industry. Back in the early 1900s, Iowa was one of the top grape producers in the country. Every farm had a grapevine in the backyard for making jelly and juice. Then during World War II, there was a severe blizzard, known as the Armistice Day freeze, that killed off many of the state's grapevines and apple trees.
Today, Iowa's grape industry is making a comeback, as the number of vineyards and wineries is growing every year. But I still haven't figured out a place where I can buy Concorde grapes, and I don't have enough sun in my shady backyard to grow grapes.
So when I saw these babies at the Minnesota produce market, I wanted to squeal in delight (but I didn't -- I didn't want the other customers to give me strange looks).
Let me tell you, these grapes smelled so good! I had no ideas that grapes could smell so fragrant, not at all like the supermarket grapes. The Concordes actually smelled like grape bubblegum, which is funny, because I never understood why grape bubblegum tastes nothing like real grapes. Now I know, it actually does!
I've never made jelly before, and I didn't realize it was such a time-consuming effort. First, I mushed the grapes in my food mill, which helped to separate most of the seeds and grape skins. Then I strained the remaining pulp from the juice by covering a cotton T-shirt (I didn't have cheesecloth) over a sieve, which I placed over a larger bowl.
After three hours, only half of the juice had dripped through the T-shirt. My husband attempted to squeeze the juice through the T-shirt by hand, but then he tipped the sieve over, and the unstrained juice got mixed with the strained juice. I tried not to get mad, but I was pretty upset that 3 hours of waiting was now a waste. But my husband promised to make it up to me. He re-strained the juice, and after 3 hours, I finally had a 4-cup batch of clear juice.
I then proceeded to follow the recipe for grape jelly in the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning. This was by far the easiest part of the process; it took less than an hour. And the result: a beautiful, flavorful, homemade batch of grape jelly! Success at last!
This little kitchen adventure was so worth the time and effort. Everytime I look at these jars, I get such a sense of accomplishment.
I would love to find a place in Iowa that sells Concorde grapes in the fall. Do any of you know where I can find them? I would love to make grape jelly again next year.