When I recently visited some Lake Erie area wineries, I was distracted by the produce, including some wonderful grapes I bought to eat. These included purple Fredonias, as well as some green grapes with the same slip skinned construction, and sweet-sour burst of flavor, but their own green grape taste. A coworker from the Erie area later identified them as Niagara Grapes. In addition to being delicious, they were a particularly nice green color.
These grapes, like concords and fredonias, are said to have a "foxy" flavor. I'm not sure what this means. Apparently a bit of foxiness is considered desirable to some degree in wines, but these grapes are overboard on this characteristic. Thus, wines made from them are of "limited local appeal." I didn't much like these wines at the tastings, but mostly, I thought at the time, because they were too sweet. I see, on reflection, that that is probably not the reason, really. If I like the taste of a wine (like sauternes.eg.), it doesn't bug me that it's sweet, after all.
The taste of the fresh grapes, however, is jazzy and great and calls for preservation. I couldn't find a recipe for preserves that seemed right for these grapes, so I went out on a limb, and made one up. I wanted to keep as much of the grape shape and the green color as possible, and to add some local wine. I didn't buy any niagara wine, and I'm not sorry really, since the conserve will take only about a cup of wine, and I will need to drink the rest of the bottle!
Reading the advice and recipes of Christine Ferber has convinced me that very fresh, very local things go well together. I therefore decided to put my already opened Vigonier from the Preque Isle Winery into the mix. I had to face the fact that there were not really enough grapes for the amount of juices the grapes exuded. Does this appear to make no sense whatsoever? Permit me to explain.
There is no way to separate the grape seeds from the pulp, unless you slip the skins off, cook the pulp down a bit, then strain it. I did this carefully, retaining the green skins. But the pulp cooks down alot, exuding juice, and this means there are not enough solids to make the conserve full of fruit.
Apple pectin jelly was already part of the plan, because I wasn't sure about the jelling with this kind of grape. I didn't want other flavors or colors to overpower the green grapes. I felt the apple taste would be there already, and that apples would be the most unobtrusive choice for added fruit. And the apples I had were local, too- organically raised Liberty apples from the farmbox.
It occured to me that everything in these preserves tastes nice with cheese- wine, apples, grapes. I thought I would aim for a fairly rich chutneyish mix to serve on crackers or bread with cheese. Hence, the addition of the nuts, another friend to cheese. This is what you need to make this jam/conserve:
2 lbs Niagara grapes- or any slip skin green grape
1 lb apples, peeled and cut into smallish cubes (don't prepare until it's time to drop them in- this prevents browning)
2 lbs sugar
juice of one small lemon
8 oz jar apple pectin jelly
1 cup dry white , vigonier or chardonnay-something just slightly oaky
a healthy handful of skinned hazelnuts
Slip the skins off the grapes and save in a glass or ceramic bowl. Put the grape innards in a preserving pan with sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, and smoosh the grapes with the back of a wooden spoon, until somewhat broken down. Use a chinois or food mill to remove the seeds from the cooked pulp. Discard seeds and combine sugared pulp with pretty green skins. Peel apples and cut into small cubes. As each apple is done, stir it into the mix, gently. The sugar and lemon will prevent the apples from browning. Cover with crumpled damp parchment, and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, sterilize four 8 oz. ball jars. Place a colander in the preserving pan, and pour the grape mixture in, so the juices drip into the pan. Bring the juices to a boil. Add the pectin jelly and wine and boil for about 10 minutes, smooshing the jelly with a wooden spoon, or better yet, with a chinese wire stranier with a handle. Add grape and apple solids and hazelnuts. Bring back to a boil, and cook to 221F on a candy thermometer and/or check the set on a cool plate. Divide the solids among the 4 jars, and add liquid to nearly the top. Carefully top with 2 piece lids and seal. Check seal the following day by pressing on inner part of lid. (No boings? Good.) Mourn the loss of green-ness.
The grape mix got awfully beige cooking with all that sugar. The tasty bits left in the preserving pan prior to scrubbing were promising, however. I think this will probably be a very nice thing to eat with some cheese. But it won't be very green.