I have this thing I do when I’ve been really careless and stupid; I force myself to suffer the consequences. Not in a creepy, masochistic way but in a kind of you-break-it-you-buy-it-you-made-your-bed-lie-in-it way. Like three years ago I threw out my wallet. Not on purpose of course but a rainy day, a broken, wet grocery bag and being late to a train all conspired to derail my attention. That’s how I came to be in my building’s basement up to my elbows clawing my way through 20 industrial size garbage bags in the hopes of finding my black Marc Jacobs wallet. You have no idea how disgusting other people are until you’ve rooted through their trash.
No wallet. So, as punishment for my idiocy, I went online and bought the cheapest, ugliest pink wallet I could find. My self inflicted scarlet 'A'. Think Malibu Barbie goes small leather goods shopping in a Fort Lauderdale hotel gift shop. I carried the wallet for two years until I decided I'd been punished enough.
Recently, I thought I’d make an autumnal and local fruit salad. Feeling virtuous for taking my re-usable bag to the farmer’s market I picked out a gorgeous box of deep purple Concord grapes, that had been sitting under a “seedless” sign. I thought they’d make a beautiful color contrast to the yellows, greens and mottled reds of the apples and pears I had also purchased. Except first of all, they turned out to be filled with seeds and second of all, have you ever tasted a plain concord grape? It is like the grapey-est most intense and sour experience you could imagine. They are just too much. What was I thinking?
I refused to waste the $5.00 I’d spent on them and decided to find a recipe using my stupid purchase. I thought about a Concord grape pie, for which there were tons of experts from New England all over the internet. But then I realized, who in the world is going to want to eat that? Then I thought about the only thing that might appeal to my familial customers...grape jelly! Ok, not officially an adventure in baking but really, what else could I do? I actually hate grape jelly and whenever a coffee shop puts those little packets on my side of wheat toast I ask the waiter to please replace them with orange marmalade or strawberry (which they always have by the way and you should totally ask for it). I’d never made jelly or jam before and I thought I’d channel my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder (minus the outhouse and plus the manicure) and get my pioneer on!
After doing my due diligence I bought the requisite equipment: 4 Ball jelly jars, lids & bands, a box of Ball Original Pectin and a pack of cheese cloth ($12.01 at Gracious Home). I already had the sugar and consulted The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (2001 Hearst Communications, Inc.) on how to improvise a boiling water canner. I was good to go. Or so I thought.
Early on a Sunday morning I started my project. I smashed the grapes and added the correct amount of water. And then I mistakenly added the sugar. I had screwed up the 'make grape juice' part of the recipe, had to start all over again and had no grapes. So at 9:30am I ran to the fruit market and bought another box of this thoroughly unappealing fruit ($3.99 at Fairway).
Ok, starting again I did it right this time and poured the hot grape mess/mass into my make shift ‘jelly bag’ (cheesecloth fastened around a bowl with a rubber band.)
After the prescribed two hours all I had was a little over a cup of juice. The recipe called for five.
Meanwhile, I had to wash and sterilize the jelly jars in my dishwasher so they would still be hot and dry when it was time to fill them. They sat on a dish towel at the ready. I put a cake sized cooling rack in the bottom of a stock pot, filled it with water and got that boiling-my improvised canner. Then I cooked the juice with the pectin and the sugar, and when it was ready I ladled (oops, had to also run out to spend $3.99 on a ladle at Gartner’s Hardware) the purple liquid into the awaiting jelly jars. Yup, didn’t need to buy four, I only filled two.
Using a pot holder I put the jars in the boiling water bath, placed the lid on the pot and prepared to wait the required 10 minutes.
Except that the water boiled up and over the pot, flooding the cook top and making the worst sizzling sound. I tried to move it and all I did was slosh boiling water everywhere, narrowly avoiding third degree burns.
I grabbed a measuring cup and bailed out cups of water, screwing up the whole ‘make sure the jars are covered by two inches of water’ instruction. But, finally things calmed down. After the ten minutes I used rubber gloves to pull the jars out of the water, put them back on the dishtowel where they were to sit for 12-24 hours to allow them to set. And then I heard the best, most satisying sound. Like the opposite of when you open a new jar of pickles. Even with the mishap I’d managed to create a vacuum seal!
The next morning I was amazed-both jars had indentations at the top of their lids. Then I gently shook the jars and I had done it--jelly!
Not being a grape fan I spread a spoonful on a piece of toast and it was really delicious! Like the distilled intense essence of grape. But I still had to convince the experts. First stop, my father (yes, at his age he still eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). We did a blind taste test, Smuckers Grape Jelly vs Mine. "This has no discernible fruit flavor at all!" He pronounced chewing the Smuckers smeared cracker with a sneer on his face. My turn. "Oh wow! Now, this is grape!!!" He said with a smile. Yup, Mine won that test.
Now, onto the niece. She summed up my project with one word: “awesome"--definitely worth my punishment and my $21.99!
Punishment Concord Grape Jelly
Click here for the recipe