You know you’re a hick (or an honorary hick) when you’re at a jewelry store in Manhattan just a few days before your birthday and your lovely, sweet, generous husband puts a beautiful diamond ring on your finger and asks, “Well? …Do you like it?”
And you look down at the gleaming thing, back up at your husband, back down at the thing, back up at your husband, and you answer… “I’d rather have an ATV.”
Whoever said ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ (okay, we all know who said ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’) obviously didn’t own an ATV, because I’ll tell you what, Marilyn – an ATV is a girl’s best friend.
My ATV is my best friend. Well…kinda. I’m friends with it more than diamonds, I know. My ATV even has a pet name: The Machine. The Machine’s etymological origin is from our neighbors; it’s what they call their ATV. As in, “I can’t start The Machine,” and “The Machine ran out of gas over on the pipeline,” and “The Machine is not a toy, you kids!”
And I take The Machine everywhere. Down to the pond. Around the orchard, (which as you know, is slightly depressing). Down to the Sugar Shack to gauge the progress on the maple syrup. And of course, down to the neighbor’s house to trade my-something for their-something, which more often than not is my-jam made from their-fruit.
This time of year that means grapes.
My neighbor swears the grapes aren’t ready yet. “Wait ’till a good frost hits,” he says. But I’m impatient about fruit and I’ve never much minded a less-than-perfectly-ripe grape. Plus I swear they are ready, and I’m an honorary hick*.
When it comes to doing something with fruit other than eating it before The Machine even gets back to the house, Rachel Saunders is my Guru. Every recipe in The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook is so perfectly thought out, the measurements so precise (which is why a kitchen scale is on my Muddy Must-Haves list over there in the right hand column by the bottom), the flavors so perfectly melded that whenever I improvise or cut corners in any way, the jam is a far inferior product. As a habitual improvisor and corner-cutter, this can be annoying, but it’s true.
Rachel says, “Concord grapes paired with the subtlest hint of orange and lemon make a wow of a jam. Its flavor is intensely grape-y, and its bright purple color is entrancing. Unlike familiar store-bought grape jelly, this jam is bursting with fruit, and it has just enough sugar to balance its flavor.”
While a seemingly simple jam, there’s one step in here that, like pitting thousands of cherries by hand, is so mind-numbing that it makes you want to hop on The Machine and head for the hills…
Step #2 is a bit insane. True. That said, I just tried to make a second batch of this tart, mind-explosive jam without skinning the grapes and – yep – it’s not nearly as good. Put on music. Watch Titanic. Do Pilates. Get your Zen-on or something and do it the right way.
Kids love this jam but it’s purely by accident – this is an adult-rated grape jam. Make as much as you have the grapes for.
THE NEIGHBOR’S OMG CONCORD GRAPE JAM
4 pounds Concord grapes, stemmed
2 1/2 pounds white cane sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
Very finely grated zest of 1/2 an orange (orange part only)
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) freshly squeezed orange juice, strained
1. Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.
2. Working directly over a small nonreactive saucepan, use your fingers to gently squeeze the flesh from each grape, being careful to catch all the grape innards and juices in the pan. (Muddy Note: Umm…Really? Yes.) Set the skins aside in a large bowl.
3. Bring the grape innards and juices to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and cook until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Immediately force as much of the pulp as possible through a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl of grape skins. Discard the grape seeds.
4. Add the sugar, lemon juice, orange zest, and orange juice to the grape pulp + skins mixture, stirring well. Transfer the mixture to an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or a wide nonreactive pot. (Muddy Mental Note: Ask for 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan for next birthday!) Bring to a boil over high heat.
5. Continue to cook the jam, stirring very frequently with a heatproof rubber spatula. If the jam starts sticking, lower the heat slightly. Skim some of the foam off the top, as when making all jams, to reduce the possibility of bubble-over. When the jam is done, it gets a glossier sheen and has a thicker, more luxurious look than it did initially, usually after 30 to 40 minutes. To avoid overcooking the jam, test it for doneness after 20 minutes of cooking.
Rachel Saunder’s foolproof way to test jam doneness: Remove the jam from the heat and carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the cold spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how quickly the jam runs; if it is reluctant to run, and if it has thickened to a spreadable consistency, it is done. If it runs quickly, cook it for another minute or two, stirring, and test again as needed.
6. When the jam is ready, skim any white foam from its surface with a stainless-steel spoon. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Makes 5 to 6 8-ounce jars
Take your boots off before you come in here!