Right now, somewhere out there in syndication world, maybe on TBS, CW11 or WGN, they’re re-running the episode of Friends where Monica makes pots and pots of jam because she’s depressed and Joey sits around eating it all. Now, Joey Tribbiani and I are one in many ways (see also: Thanksgiving pants and discussion of moo points), but perhaps none more so than in our shared jam obsession—in my case, Concord grape jam.
Every autumn, as the leaves turn crimson and the days get shorter, I too shift my rhythms: I turn into Monica Geller, go on a massive housecleaning binge, and make loads of jam. And though there are infinite jam varieties in the world, this is the one I turn to year after year.
I actually can’t make too much of it at once because it will be my breakfast and dinner every day until the jar is empty. Today is day two of the latest batch. If I don’t run out of edible delivery vehicles on which to smear the indigo elixir, it could be gone before Thanksgiving.
It’s deceptive, really. Concord grapes have a dusty, dull skin, an unpolished charcoal hue that only hints at the ultraviolet purple potential, the vividly sweet concoction that out-grapes its Smuckers brethren with the most purely distilled grapeyness ever encountered. It’s the flavor of the all-purpose room and foldable tables, of jelly damply soaking into wheat bread after being bagged up in the lunchbox all morning, but better, fresher, more intense.
These days, instead of traditional peanut butter and jelly, I’d rather eat Concord grape jam layered with cream cheese on a bagel. Or generously spread atop sourdough bread that’s been brushed with a wee bit of salted butter (this works equally well with sour cherry jam). Or inspired by Shake Shack‘s custard of the month, dolloped over vanilla ice cream as an impromptu sundae topping.
Yes, the sensible question here is why I don’t just bust out my water-bath canning equipment so I can luxuriate in Concord jam year-round? I very well could. But apart from my irrational impatience with canning (some people can’t deal with poaching eggs, I get really testy when I’m spending hours poaching glass jars), part of me wonders if I would love it so much if it were always available. Like how I binge on Cadbury Mini-Eggs every Easter until the sight of one repulses me, some things are just better in limited quantities.
Concord Grape Jam
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Makes approximately 3 cups
- 3 pounds Concord grapes
- 2 lemons, juiced, with 4 thick strips of peel removed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
Set up one large and one small saucepan on the stovetop and two large bowls on the countertop.
Separate the grape skins from their innards by gently squeezing the grapes over one of the two bowls and throwing the skins into the second. It’s a bit tedious, yes (it took me about a half hour to work through my three pounds of grapes) but nothing as annoying as peeling cardoons. You’ll end up with a bowl of translucent snotballs and a bowl of dark grapey skins.
Strain the insides through a wire colander over your large saucepan so it catches the grape juice. Dump the solid parts of the insides into the small saucepan, add 2 tbsp water, and simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring every few minutes to check the consistency, until the orbs disintegrate into a slush and the seeds are rolling around free.
While the insides simmer, finely chop the skins into mush and add, along with the lemon juice, to the large saucepan already containing the grape juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
Once the insides have softened in their pan and released the seeds, strain the slush once more with a wire colander over the large saucepan and gently push the goo through with a spatula, leaving the seeds behind.
Add the lemon peels and sugar to the large saucepan. Rather than letting my peels float free in the pan, where they’ll become almost impossible to find when it’s time to remove them from the inky syrup, I tie mine together in a mini-bundle at the end of a long piece of kitchen twine and tie the other end to my pan handle. (Be careful when doing this, as you don’t want the string to accidentally touch the gas burner. Poof!)
Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes more, letting the syrup reduce and thicken. The jam won’t completely firm up until it cools completely, but it will start to coat your spoon/spatula instead of just rolling off in a thin liquidy stream.
Remove the lemon peels before ladling the jam into clean glass jars. Let the jars cool for 15 minutes on the countertop before sticking in the fridge. Eat on the aforementioned bagels, toast, Wheat Thins, cornbread, scones, ice cream, a spoon, or your fingers.