Friday, October 30, 2009

Sunday Jam Session: quite an ordeal

This is one my longer entries, but I think it’s worth reading.

This year was the second annual concord grape hoedown (recipe below) in my apartment, hopefully the second of many.

Making the jam itself isn’t really that complicated, but making a lot of it and canning* it can be time consuming, but a lot of fun if you do it with the right people. A couple of weeks back, me and some great friends spent a Sunday making and canning jam.

With the exception of a few homes, it is a lost art. Not just that of jamming, but a tradition of spending time together chatting, eating, laughing etc., over the preservation of a favorite seasonal ingredient. Nowadays any ingredient is available almost anytime, so the thought of making an effort to keep those flavors around in the offseason is a foreign concept at best.

As a child in Missouri my anticipation for Christmas morning was nearly unbearable, the excitement was too much for my little heart. I couldn’t wait to see what items I could cross off my wish list. To make matters worse, as Christmas day drew to a close, I couldn’t imagine how I might survive another year. Strangely enough I can’t really remember what any of those things I wanted so badly are (with the exception of the Ninitendo Entertainment System) or; as much as I wanted those toys, they had no real significant impact on me.

One thing I do remember well from childhood is fresh corn in the summer. We would go pick a bunch, parboil it and flash freeze it. While maybe I didn’t pine to harvest corn in a field all day, I couldn’t wait to get home and eat it. In my old age, my Christmas comes quarterly, with every season. I can’t wait for apples, strawberries, tomatoes, squash, corn . . . . and concord grapes. These ingredients, from the right sources, are far far better than the ones available in your conventional supermarket, and let me tell you they are worth preserving.

I scored a bus tub full of grapes at the farmers market (for $80) and around noon we sat down over bagels and Bloody Mary’s to start the process. By this time I had already sterilized all the jars and lids by simmering them for 20 minutes. In batches it took me about an hour and a half. Separating the skins from all of the pulp took about another hour and a half.

We processed the skin with some sugar and put on the jam to cook. We refreshed Bloody Mary’s and cracked open beers. Now all we can do is chat, taking turns stirring if you should pass the stove. Reducing the jam to the preferred consistency took about four hours of good company or not very long. We transferred the jam to the jars, closed the lids (but not too tight or a seal won’t form) and gave them another 20 minutes in simmering water. This re-sterilizes and forms a vacuum seal on the jar. Again in batches this took about an hour working together.

This smiley face just formed, it was a happy day.

How was the jam? Freaking amazing, it is the essence of the Concord Grape with little kick, or as Boo puts it “It's grape jam dressed up in its best pair of sassypants”, and I can enjoy it all year.

But what I really have is a good day with great friends that I will always remember, and I can’t wait to create the same memories next year.

Concord Grape & Habanero Jam

2 Qts Concord grapes, stemmed

3 Cups Sugar

1 Habanero Chili Pepper, lightly crushed

· Separate the pulp/seeds from the skins.

· In a food processor, chop the skins with one cup of sugar, In a large pot simmer this mixture over low heat

· In a separate pot, simmer the pulp with the remaining sugar until completely broken down. About 20 minutes

· Strain out the seeds, pushing the pulp through with a ladle. Add the strained pulp to the skins.

· Boil this mixture, stirring often, and carefully, until thick and jelly like.

· Kill the heat and toss in the habanero to steep, it will quickly give off it’s great aroma and some of it’s heat. Lightly stir, monitoring the heat by tasting, remove the chili when the spice level is to your liking.

Tip: You can test the jam on a cold plate in the fridge, It gives you an idea of what the final product will be.

* canning refers to the process of preserving in sterilized jars, so that they are shelf stable for some time.

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