Grapes appear at the farmer's markets for but a few weeks here in Philadelphia. Every year I mean to put some up, and every year I end up eating them instead, inelegantly spitting seeds into a teacup. It's not for lack of wanting grape-something in the pantry, I like a PB&J as much as the next kid, it's just that the grapes always seem to arrive squarely during the few weeks when I've taken on the craziest canning hurdle of the year: tomatoes.
Whether whole, crushed, sauce, or salsa, the tomatoes demand my attention so thoroughly that I find myself in the wee hours of the night, crammed in around work and other responsibilities, my free time divided into seven jar intervals. I relax only when that last locally-grown San Marzano is firmly sealed up, knowing that January will mean rosy tomato soup, chili, and rigatoni.
The other factor preventing me from having put up grapes in the past has been the fuss. Mimicking that clear, jewel-toned perfection of Welch's requires a jelly set-up and a long draining time, and chunkier jam recipes usually call for peeling concord grapes and then cooking them in two stages. A few weeks ago I compared a season of preserving to a marathon. If the metaphor holds, then I'm flagging in the home stretch and I simply cannot be bothered to peel grapes, or wash a second saucepan.
When sweet, seedy, intensely flavored ones showed up at the market this year however, I took a deep breath and bought two heaping quarts, determined to get them into jars. I let go of the expectation that the result would have that perfect translucence of a proper jelly. Instead, I cooked them with their skins, and let the food mill do the work of removing them, along with the seeds. The result is somewhere between a jam and a jelly. It's opaque and pulpy, bursting with grape flavor, but with a wobbly set that melts instantly on warm toast. Since the grapes I used were syrupy sweet and sticky, I added a healthy half-cup of citrus juice to the mix to amp up the contrast. If you're using concords, or another variety that has more of a tang, cut the citrus down to a quarter cup. Either way, this little jam makes a quintessential sandwich, and it's also awesome on a bagel with cream cheese. I don't dare try it as filling in a homemade doughnut, because it might be too good, and then I would find myself next year torn between grapes and tomatoes...