Confession: I Want to Be a Farmer…Colorado Concord Grapes Were a Perfect Reminder
There’s nothing like eating straight from the garden. Even if you weren’t there for the planting and subsequent care, who doesn’t rejoice in eating something you’ve picked yourself?
The end of our marketing contract this year has left us in Colorado. We are lucky enough to have family here, so we took the opportunity to visit and enjoy the late fall. If you’ve never been to Colorado this time of year, you will not be disappointed! The weather is amazing and the foliage colors are superb. Those quaking yellow aspens with babbling brooks and high-mountain backdrops are a uniquely Colorado experience. My mom’s cousin Steve and his wife, Ann have a lovely home in the Fort Collins area and have been blessed both with green thumbs and lots of great sunlight to have a garden. Their skills and the perfect climate have provided apple, peach and cherry trees, tomatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins and squash, countless herbs and a perfectly amazing grapevine. On Steve’s side of the fence, and the other side, belonging to his neighbor, a local restaurant owner, the crop of Colorado Concord grapes is an absolute marvel. They had already harvested as many as they could handle, and there are still and equal amount hanging on the vine ready to be creatively utilized.
Use Those Colorado Concord Grapes Before It’s Too Late!
We’ve been foraging and helping to make use of the plethora of fruit and vegetables since we’ve been here. We made a Colorado Concord Grape Pie (yes, you can make grape pie) and an Apple Crumble/Pandowdy. We sauteed squash and Swiss chard and green beans, and collected seeds for next year’s oregano and shallots. That time, however, is quickly coming to a close. The cold weather has started to creep in, and yesterday we made one final, huge, harvest from the garden. Cousin Steve is an expect canner and preserver, and he gave us both our first lesson in making Colorado Concord grapes into jam today!
Harvesting the Grapes
We started out by clipping 8-10 pounds of Colorado Concord grapes from his vines. They are as good as any grape I’ve ever had, and put any store bought grape to shame. After hauling the grapes inside to the utility sink we rinsed them in a water and vinegar bath for about 10 minutes to get rid of any unwanted clingers-on. After that came the most tedious process of the lesson, removing the grapes from the stems and separating the hulls from the fruit. The hulls and the fruit are reunited but later in the process. With the fruit and hulls in separate pots, both go on the stove to simmer separately. Once they were sufficiently cooked, we removed them from heat and set to remove the seeds from the fruit.
Sieve and Pestle
For this, we used a sieve and a pestle to squeeze the fruit through while leaving the seeds behind in the sieve. Once the seeds were successfully removed from the fruit, the thick juice and hull mash are reunited. Now come the measurement and calculation part of the lesson. The process resulted in 14 cups of fruit, so we needed to calculate our sweetener and thickener accordingly. Steve has found a great pectin, used as the thickener, called Pomonas Universal Pectin Fruit & Vegetable Concentrate. The pectin is all-natural, and gels with a calcium-water mix. It’s high-flavor and low-sweetener. In other words, much less sugar/brown sugar/honey, or whatever sweetener you choose is required . . . about 1/8 to 1/4 the amount of sweetener as traditional recipes. We added the calcium water to the fruit mix, then we combined our sweetener (local Colorado honey!) with the pectin powder which was also added to the fruit mix. That concluded our mixology session!
Our Colorado Concord grape mix was then brought to boil for just a few minutes to encourage the ingredients to play nice. Next up, jarring! Using a funnel and ladle we divided the finished product into jars. Steve had to dip into some reserve jars since our batch was so huge! With the jars filled, we were careful to wipe the lip of each before putting the lids on and tightening the bands. The final step involved submerging the filled jars in boiling water to properly seal them to ensure a long shelf life. The altitude in Colorado requires some modifications while cooking. In this case, we needed to boil the jars for about 20 minutes to produce the desired effect. After the allotted time, we set the jars on the counter and waited for them to “pop,” a signal that you did your job to preserve the preserves!
I can tell you that from now on when I’m offered some homemade jam, jelly or preserves I will certainly have a greater appreciation of the effort the producer put forth to make such a tasty treat! We branded our 18-jar Colorado Concord grape jam batch as D&T’s Purple Gold, and let us tell you . . . it’s delicious!
D&T’s Purple Gold