When my parents said the farmers market in downtown Columbia, SC was a drive thru, they weren’t kidding. We literally drove through the giant open barn that houses the market, with vendors on either side of the “road” and loads of fresh local fruits and vegetables. Melons and peaches were in abundance as were the local wild grapes which are in season, the muscadines and scuppernogs. They were stacked in large wood chip baskets on rolling shelves, lined up on the ground, and overflowing out of the backs of trucks that were lined up on each side of the barn. We stopped at a few vendors, buying cantaloupes, then checking out the wild grapes. We brought home a big basket of muscadines and a small basket of scuppernogs and sampled them at our leisure.
The dark muscadines are a little sweeter than the green scuppernogs, though they are both technically muscadine grapes. These aren’t the typical sweet seedless grapes that you find in the grocery stores; they have a rich, complex flavor, which makes them good wine grapes. The skins are thick, so thick that chewing takes some work, but you can just pierce the skin with your teeth and suck out the rich pulp. Don’t forget to spit the seeds.
If you can’t make wine from them, the next best thing is to make jam. The old fashioned method cooks the skins separate from the pulp, which is strained to remove the seeds, then recombines it all. I tried a variation on this method, though I can’t say this is thoroughly tested. I made two batches, one set up well but the other only so-so. Since we can’t find muscadines in our area, I can’t retest until next August when we make another trip south to visit family, which means this is an experimental recipe. Try it, see if you like it, tell me how it works for you.
What I can vouch for is the flavor, which makes me wish I had muscadines growing in our backyard. We enjoy it with goat cheese and crackers, but it’s also good for spreading on toast or English muffins. You may never go back to grocery store grape jam.
MUSCADINE GRAPE JAM
Makes 8 (8-ounce) jars.
6-quart heavy bottom pot with lid
4-quart heavy bottom pot
sieve or food mill
8 (8-ounce) jelly jars with lids and bands
canning pot with lid
wide mouth funnel
1 gallon muscadine grapes
4-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 package pectin, dry
1. Rinse the grapes well and remove the stems. Pierce each grape with a sharp knife and put them in 6-quart pot. Add water just until the grapes start to float. Cover with the lid and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the grapes are soft, about 30 to 40 minutes. Mash the grapes using the potato masher.
2. Press the mixture through a sieve or use a food mill to separate the pulp from the skins and seeds. Use a spatula to scrape excess pulp from underneath the sieve into the bowl. You should end up with about 6 cups of juice. Transfer the pulp and juice into the 4-quart pot.
3. Mix together the pectin and 1/4 cup of the sugar, then add to the grape pulp and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Add the remaining sugar and bring back to a full boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. The mixture should have small bubbles constantly breaking the surface. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, then test the mixture by spooning a little out onto a plate. Wait a few minutes and check the jam, it should start to set as it cools. If it’s too runny, continue cooking and checking every 5 minutes.
4. While the mixture cooks, place the jars in the canning pot and add water until it’s 1 inch over the top of the jars. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat, leaving the jars in for at least 10 minutes. In the small pot, heat water to 180° F. Add the lids and leave them in for at least 10 minutes to soften the sealing compound and sterilize them. Do not boil the lids to avoid seal failure.
5. When the mixture is ready, drain and remove the jars from the pot. Turn on the heat for the canning pot and bring the water temperature up to 180° F. Ladle the jam mixture into the jars using the wide mouth funnel, leaving about 1/4-inch headspace. Run a thin spatula around the inside edge of the jar to remove bubbles. Wipe the top of the jars clean with a clean damp cloth and place the hot lids on top. Add the bands and tighten just until finger tight.
6. Use the jar lifter to gently lower the jars into the hot water. Cover with the lid and bring back to a rolling boil. Process for 10 minutes, then use the jar lifter to remove the jars from the pot. Place hot jars on a wooden board and leave them for 12 to 24 hours, until they cool completely. Check for a seal after they have cooled. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for up to 12 months. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.
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[An original post from Andrea Meyers: making life delicious. All images and text copyrighted, All Rights Reserved.]
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