Picking the fruit from the stems is tedious and requires many hands, or many hours. Still, I love their decisively sour character, their subtle musk and saturated, grape flavor. And gathering them is often a small adventure, requiring climbing trees or braving vine-choked thickets, basket in hand, just as the autumn leaves begin to turn.
But, like a favorite pain-in-the-ass friend, wild grapes are worth the trouble. In my personal baking canon, grape pie enjoys mythical status and I try to make it once (and only once) each fall. So I set out yesterday to an overgrown riverbank tangled with grapevines and, battling mosquitos, filled my basket with tart, ripe fruit.
This is looking like a great season for grapes, and it's still early. The blackish orbs will get sweeter with a few hard frosts, and will continue ripening for the next several weeks, if the birds don't get them first.
I had planned to make pie
. But, back in the kitchen, crust seemed like a project for another day, so I spun the grapes into an intense, jammy preserve instead. I'm looking forward to eating it on buttery toast, or with goat cheese and crackers or bread, or with cheddar and prosciutto. Or anything that would benefit from a shot of tartness.
Wild Grape Jam
Makes five 8-ounce jars
- 5 pounds wild grapes, stems removed and rinsed
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 3-4 tablespoons arrowroot powder
- Start with sterilized jars and lids. Set a big pot of water to boil.
- Heat the grapes in a large pot over medium-low flame, stirring often. Simmer until the fruit releases the seeds, 20-30 minutes, then mash gently until the mixture reaches an even consistency.
- Strain the grapes through a food mill, colander or medium-mesh sieve to remove seeds and skins.
- Return the seedless purée to the pot and add sugar and maple syrup. Bring to a low boil over medium-low heat. Stir often for 20-30 minutes, until the mixture thickens enough to coat a spoon.
- Place the arrowroot powder in a small bowl. Add 2-3 tablespoons of water and stir until smooth. Whisk into the grape mixture.
- Whisk the jam constantly for 10 or so minutes, or until it thickens enough to fall in an unbroken stream when poured from a spoon. To test for consistency, place a saucer in the freezer for a few minutes, then dab a little jam onto the cold saucer. Allow to set for 10 seconds, then tip sideways. If it doesn't run, it's done!
- Pour the hot jam into jars, leaving one inch of room at the top.
- With the lids on and rings screwed loosely down, process in the hot-water bath for 40 minutes.
- Once cool, tighten the rings and store.
Wild grapes are kind of a pain to work with — each individual fruit is more than half seed and skin, so you need to collect a lot in order to do anything with them.