Sunday, August 29, 2010

Homemade Grape Jelly

Look! I made jelly! This was a completely unplanned, unresearched venture inspired by an unexpected windfall of those tiny, annoying grapes that seem to be so popular here in Tokyo. But it worked, and now instead of tiny, annoying grapes, I have sweet, spreadable, jam. I have no bread in the house, but I ate a spoonful by itself tonight for dessert (which, by the way, is perfectly normal if you're a Russian) and it was delicious. Even more miraculously, it was a firm jelly that mounded nicely on the spoon - and I didn't have to add any gelling agent, either. This jelly contains nothing but sugar and grapes.
I came by the two bunches of tiny grapes, which I bought one time long ago and never planned to buy again due to their being about equal parts skin and fruit, by a kind of accident. I had set out to buy fruit from my produce guy, but decided to take a longer walk around the neighborhood first. Up near the station, I saw a couple of guys and a little girl selling peaches out of the back of their truck, which is not that uncommon where I live. I don't know whether or not they're actually farmers selling their own produce, but it looks that way, and I always like to buy as close as possible to the source. The little girl offered me a taste of a peach, and after that I felt like I couldn't not buy something. I asked for peaches. The man on the back of the truck put three peaches into a bag and told me, "Three peaches are 1000 yen, and I'm going to give you a free gift of these grapes as well." I didn't want grapes, so I asked if I could have a nectarine instead. He ended up giving me both grapes and a nectarine, and then he offered to throw in three eggplants as well. I don't quite understand the business model (unless it's to get rid of as much as possible as fast as possible because it's too hot to sit outside with a truck of produce all afternoon), but the outcome was two bunches of tiny grapes I really didn't want.
But I washed them anyway, intending to put them in the fridge and hopefully remember to eat them before they withered away (these tiny grapes wither pretty quickly, too). As I was washing them, a few fell off the stems, and that's when I had that brilliant idea of making them into jelly. I knew that you're supposed to use an equal weight of sugar and fruit, but I didn't have any way to weigh the grapes, so I just threw in a half cup of brown sugar, which seemed about right. I simmered the grapes and brown sugar on medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for about 25 minutes...
... until it had thickened and was starting to look like jelly. Then I poured it into one of the empty jam jars I've luckily saved. I guess the whole jam-making venture was just meant to be, because look at how that jar is filled up exactly to the top, without a drop left over. I'm always astounded when I make something wonderful out of practically nothing, and this jam was a great success. The brown sugar gives it a nice depth of flavor, and those annoying grape skins have become an interesting textural contrast, chewy and sweet, almost candied. And it's beautiful, too, the kind of jelly I would be unable to resist buying if I saw it in a store, with the pearl-like grapes suspended in wine-colored jelly.

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