As a pre-school teacher at the Grace House community center in Richmond, Virginia, my mother taught a whole generation how to distinguish a circle from a square, how to count to 10, and how to do the “Hokey Pokey.” At least once every fall, she also helped the boys and girls make Concord grape jam. When I bought grapes from my local farmer’s market, I decided to make a batch.
The school kitchen was located in the back of an old house
in Richmond’s Fan District, so named because the streets fan out from another in V shapes instead of connecting at right angles. Around the chipped linoleum table, a donation from a church, the children took turns gleefully squirting the pulp from the grapes into one bowl, then tossing the skins in another.
“Eew-y eyeballs,” they called the pulp. They simply called
the raw skins “eew-y.” Then the pot went onto the stove, and the sweet, nose-tingling aroma of fruit simmered in sugar filled the community center for the rest of the day. Each child brought home a shiny purple sample in a little cup covered with foil.
Concord grapes migrated a long way south to Richmond from Concord, Massachusetts, the town about 30 miles west of Boston where Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden. The Concord Grape Association tells the long and colorful history of the grape’s development. A resident of Concord first cultivated the grapes from wild seeds in 1849. The Welch family, now famed for its brand of juice, started making “unfermented wine” in 1869.
Making the jam in my Boston kitchen and bringing a cupful to my mom, who now lives nearby, brought me full circle. I only used one pound of grapes; she used four, but you can easily increase the recipe if you want to feed a big group. Every bite reminded us of kids clamoring for a turn stirring the pot in the Grace House kitchen, then spreading the sticky jam on crackers or peanut butter sandwiches afterwards.
Concord Grape Preserves (1970s)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 pound (16 ounces) Concord grapes
1 cup sugar
- Wash the grapes and place two mixing bowls on a counter or other work surface.
- Over one bowl, gently squeeze each grape until the pulp squirts out. Place the skin in the other.
- Place the pulp in a 2-quart saucepan with a heavy bottom. Over medium heat, bring the pulp to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the seeds come free of the pulp.
- Carefully pour the pulp into a colander set over a bowl. Strain out the seeds, pressing the pulp with the back of a spoon.
- Return the strained pulp to the pan. Add the grape skins and the sugar and stir to combine.
- Bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue simmering over low heat, stirring occasionally, to prevent scorching, until the jam is thick and the skins have dissolved, about 30 minutes. Let cool thoroughly before serving. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. Lasts at least 1 week.