10.1.12 Came, Saw, Concord
photos by gluttonforlife
It's October. How did that happen? If I close my eyes, I can see the pages of the calendar being ripped off and whisked away by the violent winds of time. And yet I can still taste the cream-cheese-&-jelly sandwich I ate with my daddy when he took me to lunch at the deli after nursery school. Time is so mysterious and elastic. Most of us are traveling back with as much frequecy as we move forward. Nothing evokes memory quite as viscerally as taste. Sometimes you can reclaim the past with just one bite. And now and then you can improve upon it, rendering the present moment that much sweeter. Here's a little variation on a theme: the schoolyard lunch, all grown up.
It all started with an enormous box of Concord grapes, a cultivar of the wild species found ripening in the hills now, Vitis labrusca
, or fox grape, so-called for its "foxy" sweet muskiness. (Truth.) Next to Muscats, Concords are the most fragrant grapes, evoking that distinctive Welch's taste. As I do evey fall, I made a big batch of sorbet
spiked with fennel pollen, and it was immensely satisfying, but I was still left with a big, tantalizingly fragrant bowl of Concords.
dust to dust
The combination of sweet, winey Concords and sharp, piney fennel pollen is a match made in heaven, by the way. Still haven't tried fennel pollen
? I advise you to seek some out and begin sprinkling it on everything from soups to nuts, literally. It's reminiscent ot fresh fennel and fennel seeds, but has its own subtly anise-like perfume.
all jammed up
I used the remaining grapes for jam. I'm not a big grape jelly fan, never have been, always preferring more voluptuous apricot or strawberry jam. But I'm hooked on this. It has a richer, more sensuous feel in the mouth, for one thing. And, spiked with fennel pollen, it ascends to new heights. Make a small batch to keep in the fridge, or buy a flat of grapes and put some up. I made just three precious jars and I'm hoarding them like a squirrel with its winter stash.
When the jam was done and cooled and ready, I concocted the ultimate sandwich: walnut butter
, grape-fennel jam and paper-thin slices of crisp, cold fennel on toasted multi-grain bread. I don't think this is the taste of anyone's childhood, but it should be.
Concord Grape Jam with Fennel Pollen
makes 4-6 half-pint jars
— 5 lbs Concord grapes, rinsed and drained, large stems removed
— 2 1/2 cups organic cane sugar
— 4 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
— 1 generous tablespoon fennel pollen
— 2 piches sea salt
Before you start, place a small plate in the freezer; you will use this later to test the jam.
Place grapes and 1 cup of water in 4- to 6-quart wide, heavy pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently and mashing with a wooden spoon, until pulp is broken down, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly and then force through a fine mesh strainer, tamis or chinois, extracting as much juice and pulp as possible, and leaving behind skins, stems and seeds. Discard solids.
Rinse out the pot and return grape mixture to it. Add lemon juice, sugar, fennel pollen and salt and cook at a slow boil, skimming foam occasionally and stirring frequently as mixture thickens to prevent scorching, about 45 minutes.
Test for doneness by dropping a teaspoonful of jam on a chilled plate; chill 1 minute. Then tilt the plate: the jam should remain in a mound and not run. If jam runs, continue cooking at a slow boil, testing every 5 minutes, until done, up to 25 minutes more.
Seal and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes, or jar and give away for immediate use, or just hoard in your own fridge.