Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Mmmmm, grape!

(Originally posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 by Tim)

We have a row (isle, rack, stand, whatever you call them) of grape vines in the backyard. It was overgrown with five or so other types of plants when we moved in, but Cat hacked it back to grape vines and some plant with orange flowers in the first week. I was initially very excited about the grapes. We had a vine in the yard in Mukilteo, but it never produced much. The row of grapes here is much larger and was already producing quite a crop when we moved in. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was somewhat dampened when I tried a few of the green beauties and found they were quite sour and seedy. I'd liken the experience to tasting vanilla extract for the first time. You're expecting something that tastes delicious, but what you get is quite bitter. Hmmm, seems there are a number of things in life that fit that analogy.

In any case, I assumed we had some sort mutant grape vine that was designed to grow well in the harsh Appalachian climate. Something designed to survive months of banjo music without chewing off its own roots. I stopped thinking about the grapes and gave up my hopes of making my own wine from them.

Two days ago, Cat pointed out to me that the grapes had turned red. On trying one I found it to be rather sweet, although still seedy. It's too bad the grapes ripened so close to the start of classes at Radford. I would have liked to try and make some wine, but I'm afraid I can't show up to class with purple feet (at least until tenure). I was trying to decide what to do with the grapes when I realized that we have run out of the blackberry jam we made in Mukilteo last summer. I looked on the Web and found the following recipe by Ellen Skennar of Herberton, Queensland. I ran a test batch tonight and it makes a very tasty refrigerator jam.

Appalachian Grape Jam
Red grapes from your backyard

Pick grapes from the backyard. Squeeze grapes and separate the skins into one saucepan and the pulp (with seeds) into another saucepan. Add a little water to the skins and simmer for 10 minutes. Also simmer the pulp for 10 minutes or until its structure breaks down. Press the pulp through a strainer to remove the seeds. Combine skins and pulp. Add a volume of sugar equal to that of the skins and pulp and simmer until jam gells. You can tell a jam has gelled by placing a little bit on a plate and allowing it to cool. If the cooled jam forms a skin when pressed with your finger, it is done. If you have a candy thermometer, gelling occurs around 220 Fahrenheit.

The next step will be to pick the vine in earnest and make a large batch of canned jam. If you're reading this and you're on our gift list, I'll give you three guesses on what you're getting for Christmas.

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