One of the rewards of autumn is all the fresh produce that is available. I think this is the best time of year for home cooking! Of course, knowing that the bounty is fleeting and that winter is right around the corner makes the food taste even better. What I have learned is that if I take some time now to preserve some of my favorite fruits and vegetables I can continue to enjoy them well into winter.
Now I have to admit that I don't do as much preserving as I used to, but there are still a few things that I make time for especially if it is something that I can't easily find at the market. Such is the case with muscadines.
Muscadines, or scuppernongs, are wild North American native grapes that ripen in late summer and early fall. They thrive in the hot, humid climates of the Southeast, but can be found growing westward to Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Being a wild grape, muscadines are much tougher than other American or European species and plant breeders have been hard at work developing varieties that are sweeter with a more tender skin. 'Fry' muscadines produce a white fruit with a mild flavor that foregoes the musky taste associated with the wild variety.
The fruit's large size, sweetness and dense pulp make muscadines ideal for making preserves. It is a wonderful spread on fresh bread or biscuits. It also tastes delicious as a substitute for syrup on pancakes and I've even used it as a topping for ice cream. After you make it you can simply keep it in the refrigerator, freeze it or for long term storage process it in a boiling water bath.
- 2 quarts muscadines or other wild grape, washed and stemmed
- water, enough to cover fruit
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups of sugar
- sterilized glass jars with seals and rings (available at the grocery store)
Begin by removing the skins from the washed and de-stemmed muscadines. Using a sharp knife, just slit the skin of the muscadine about half way around and squeeze the pulp out. If you have muscadines that are not fully ripe, blanche them in boiling water for 2 minutes to make the process easier. The fruit I used was super ripe and the pulp slipped right out without blanching.
Set the skins aside. Place the pulp in a large stainless steel or enameled pot, and then add enough water to cover it. I needed very little water, perhaps 1 cup, because the fruit I used was very juicy. You just need enough liquid to bring to a boil and stew the pulp. Cook the mixture over a high heat, stirring as it cooks until the pulp is softened. This takes about 15 minutes.
While the pulp is cooking, place the skins is a food processor and process until chopped. The skins will not break down much when cooked, so you want to get the pieces as small as you can.
When the pulp is through boiling, remove the pan from the heat and press the pulp through a coarse sieve or a food mill to remove seeds. Return the pulp to the large pot and add the skins, grated lemon peel, lemon juice and salt and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the sugar and return to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer until mixture begins to thicken, stirring frequently. I cooked the mixture for about 20 minutes. It thickened, but because it doesn't contain any gelatin it never really set so don't expect the end product to be like a jelly or jam.
Now you are ready to pour the preserves into your jars. When you buy your jars you will find instructions inside the box for the proper way to sterilize and use them. Don't be intimidated by this, it is not really complicated. It is more common sense than anything else, but it is important to follow the instructions to prevent the glass from breaking or the contents from going bad over time.
The preserve should be hot when you pour it into the jars and it is a good idea for the jars to be warm as well. You can keep them warm by placing them in hot tap water or in your dishwasher on the dry cycle.
When you pour the preserves into the jars leave about a 1/4-inch of headspace and carefully wipe off any residue from the jar mouths with a paper towel moistened with boiling water.
Next, take a plastic knife or thin spatula and work your way around the space between the glass and the preserves to remove any air bubbles. Now cover the jars with seals and rings.
At this point you need to decided how you plan to store the jam. If you plan to eat it immediately you can just put it in the refrigerator or you can freeze it to use later. If you want to keep it in the pantry or give it as a gift you will need to process the jars in a boiling water bath to make the seal tight. This procedure, also known is canning, is really quite simple especially if you purchase a water bath canner. This is a large pot with a lid and removable wire rack. They are inexpensive, I bought one for about $20.00, and even if you only use it on occasion it is worth the investment.
To learn more about how to use a water bath safely visit the USDA's website on the subject at http://foodsafety.cas.psu.edu/canningguide.html. Now I know this sounds like a lot of work, but with the help of the water bath canner it's fairly simple and you just can't beat the feeling of accomplishment that comes from "putting up" a batch of delicious your own muscadine preserves.