Grape jam is one of those lost recipes that no one seems to make any more. Every grade school kid knows about grape jelly, but grape jam has long since gone by the wayside. Grape jam is darn delicious, and it’s time it made a comeback!
In truth, there’s a good reason why grape jam fell out of favor. Traditionally it required a lot of work, namely to remove large grape seeds in heirloom grape varieties. The first seedless grapes weren’t developed until the 1980s, and by that point, grape jelly was long since entrenched in our national cuisine.
To make a really fine grape jam, you need to remove the seeds from grapes. They much larger than raspberry or blackberry seeds, and once you’ve cooked a batch down, if you haven’t removed the seeds, there are a lot of grape seeds in the finished jam. Seedless grapes mostly solve this problem, but not completely, because even “seedless” grapes still have tiny seeds. If you’re using “seedless” grapes, removing the seeds is optional, but I’ll take you through the process either way.
Removing Seeds from Grapes
To make grape jam, the essential part is keeping the grape peels. The idea is to filter out the seeds from the pulp, but leave the peels still in the jam. How on earth does that work?
The Ball Book of Canning and Preserving suggests starting with uncooked grapes and separating the peels from the pulp. Start by peeling back a bit of the grape skin from one end of the grape and then squeeze out the inside. The grape pulp goes into one bowl and the peels go into another.
I know, peeling grapes sounds tedious. So is shelling peas and all manner of tasks grandma filled her days with staying useful. For me, making jam is something I love to do with my toddlers. They love jam, and they love everything about helping make it. The cooking and canning parts are a little to hazardous for them, but since they’re at the end once their attention is waning it works out wonderfully.
Before the cooking process, the more steps the better. Idle baby hands take to coloring the walls, but babies happily put to work peeling grapes take an active part in preparing the food they’ll be eating later. If you don’t have easily entertained toddlers, keep in mind the seeding part is completely optional if you’re working with seedless grapes. Really it’s optional with seeded grapes, if you don’t mind the occasional crunchy grape seed.
Leaving the bowl of grape skins set to one side, the next step is to cook down the grape pulp. Allow the pulp to simmer on the stove until it has pretty well dissolved. Give it a few mashes with the back of a spoon to help it along, but it won’t take long. Pass the pulp through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Even with “seedless” grapes, there are still quite a few tiny seeds.
How to Make Grape Jam
At this point, combine the grape skins and the filtered grape pulp and add the sugar. If you’d like to make a low sugar grape jam, you can reduce the sugar by half without a problem. Keep in mind that a reduced sugar jam will yield considerably less because you’ll have to cook down the mixture further to reach gel stage. Either way, it’s darn delicious.
Add the pulp/skin mixture and sugar to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until much of the juice is evaporated and the bubbles in the jam begin to change consistency. This jam comes together really fast, quicker than any other no pectin added jam I’ve ever made.
If you’ve made jam before, you’ll recognize this change as the jam approaches gel stage. Place a plate in the freezer and use it to test the jam’s consistency by putting small amounts on the cold plate. Alternately, generally gel stage is around 220 degrees F, and you can test the jam with a candy thermometer.
Once the jam reaches gel stage or consistency that you like, pour it into prepared canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process the grape jam in a water bath canner for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat. Allow the jam jars to sit for an additional 5 minutes before removing them to a towel on the counter to cool.
At this point, it can take a while for the jam to fully gel. Give the jam about 48 hours to rest before you open and test one. If you find it’s too thin, you can pour them back out, recook for a while and re-can the grape jam without issue. If it’s too thick, similarly you can pour them back into the jam pot and add a bit of water to re-cook. If you tested the jam ahead of time with a plate or thermometer it should be just fine with no need to retry, but it’s nice to know that options there if you need them.
Choosing Grapes for Grape Jam
Most recipes these days are for “concord grape jam” perhaps because that’s the most popular type of grape for grape jelly. It’s a flavor we’re used to for jelly, thus it’s what they suggest for grape jam. The thing is, it can be hard to find concord grapes for sale in the store. Most of them go directly into jelly or juice, and the few I have seen on supermarket shelves didn’t look too appetizing. I assume they must not keep well, thus the reason they’re always preserved rather than sold as table grapes.
There is no reason you can’t make grape jam with just about any variety of grape. Dark purple or blue grapes make a particularly dramatic presentation, but a bright green Thompson seedless grape jam would have its own beautiful green appeal.
The Ball Book of Home Canning suggests using Concord, Muscadine or Scuppernong grapes. None of those varieties grow up here in zone 4 Vermont, and you’ll only find generic green or red grapes in the store. Don’t worry, just get creative with what you can get (or grow) where you live. Trust me, it’s all good.
Old fashioned grape jam is packed with flavor. The grape skins add lovely color and give the finished jam a fabulous texture.
- 8 cups grapes, stemmed
- 6 cups sugar
- Seed grapes as discussed above by squeezing the grape flesh out of the skin and then cooking the pulp down. Put the pulp through a fine mesh strainer and then re-combine the filtered pulp with the grape skins.
- Add the skins and pulp into a saucepan along with the sugar and cook the mixture until it reaches gel stage, about 10-15 minutes. Experienced jam makers can watch for when the type of bubbles change and take on a glossy look. To be sure, test the consistency on a plate that's kept in the freezer or with a candy thermometer.
- Pour the jam into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Store in the refrigerator for immediate use, or process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the jars to sit in the canner for an additional 5 minutes before removing them to cool on a towel on the counter.
- Allow the jars to rest for 24 to 48 hours to completely gel.
Recipe yields about six 8-ounce jars of grape jam.
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