07 Oct Canadian Food Experience Project – Concord Grape Jam
Growing up, my mom’s homemade grape jam appeared on the table in recycled baby food jars with a paraffin wax seal. While the jam bubbled and the jars boiled, she melted bricks of wax on the stove top in an old tomato juice can with the opening pinched to form a makeshift spout. After she’d ladled the hot jam into the sterilized jars, she gripped the hot tin with a tea towel and carefully poured the clear wax on top of the steaming jam.
I used to watch the wax harden, turning from a clear liquid to solid white, as if by magic. Once the wax had set, Mom screwed on the original baby food lid and stuck a hand-written label to the front of the jar. The jam was then taken to the basement and placed in a shallow cupboard deep enough only for baby food jars. I’m not sure what its orginal use was, but I always knew it as “The Jam Cupboard.”
While I loved the jam, I had mixed feelings about the wax seal. Unlike the stubborn lids on store bought jam, these popped off easily. So easily even a young child with weak hands and a strong sweet tooth could open them. The seal proved more troublesome. It never popped out cleanly and I ended up gouging it out with a butter knife. This inelegant fix left the first few spoonfuls of jam flecked with wax. Unlike the Lucky Bay Leaf, Mom couldn’t persuade anyone to embraced these white specks.
Occasionally, after prying out the wax, we were rewarded with another layer — of mold. The jam was tossed, another jar retrieved from the basement stash, and we thought nothing more of it.
The ultra-safe boiling water bath has replaced the precarious paraffin seal. You won’t find paraffin anymore — at least not in the preserves section. When it disappeared from the store shelves, Mom stopped making jam. The loosey-goosey baby food lids aren’t suited to boiling water baths. Her jar collection, carefully amassed over the years, was useless. With no jam to fill them, the dozens upon dozens of empty jars lining the basement jam cupboard slowly disappeared — given away, sent to the recycling depot, confiscated to hold nails on my father’s work bench.
When I realized why mom no longer made jam, I was tempted to buy her a case of small mason jars and walk her through the boiling water bath process. It would be like old times. Together, we’d pluck basket after basket of grapes from their stems, pinching the pulp from the skin. It would leave our hands stained and smelling like a vineyard.
I stopped myself. Mom used to put down dozens of jars to keep the houseful of kids and their hungry friends happy and full. The kids moved out long ago. They now like their grapes in a wine glass, not on toast. She might eat four jars a year. What is she going to do with a case?
The thought of commercial Concord grape jam was too much for me. I can take store bought marmalade, but grape must be homemade.
I have mason jars. I have a canner and tongs and space in my basement. The grapes are in season. I made jam.
It was so good even the cat couldn’t resist interrupting the photo shoot.
- 2 pounds, Concord grapes
- ½ cup water
- 3 cups sugar
- ¼ cup bottled lemon juice
- Skin the grapes: Pinch the grapes to separate the skins from the pulp. Put the skins in a large nonreactive saucepan and the flesh in a medium pan as you go.
- Cook the skins: Add the water to the pot of skins and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Cook the pulp: While the skins are cooking, bring the grape pulp to a simmer and cook until the grapes soften and begin to lose their shape, about 10 minutes.
- Removing the seeds: Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and push the pulp through the sieve using the back of a large ladle. Discard the seeds and add the de-seeded pulp to the skins.
- Cook the jam: Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. Stir in lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Stir the jam continuously, skimming off the foam as necessary, until the jam is set, about 15 minutes. (Click here for ways to know the jam is set.)
- Fill the jars: Remove the pan from the heat. Fill hot, 125 mL (1/2 cup) mason jars, leaving ¼ inch heasdpace. Release trapped air using the bubble tool or a wooden skewer. Wipe the rims clean, centre the lids on the jars and screw on the rings to fingertips tight.
- Process the jam: Use the canning tongs to place the jars in the hot water. Cover and bring to a boil, for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing. Using canning tongs, place the jars on a heat-proof surface where they won't be disturbed for 24 hours. Check the seals. If any jar has not sealed properly, refrigerate it and use it first. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year -- if it lasts that long.
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The Canadian Food Experience Project is a monthly series of themed posts from participating Canadian food bloggers across the country. By sharing our personal stories and regional food experiences, we hope to answer the elusive question, “Just what exactly is Canadian Cuisine?”
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