Equipment you will need:
- 8-12 half pint canning jars (You can find these at the grocery store, often in the picnic or paper towels section.)
- Large 5-12 quart sauce pan for sterilizing the jars
- Another large 5 quart stainless steel or heavy enamel sauce pan for boiling the fruit and juice. (Don't use aluminum or iron as it can cause bitterness or discolor the butter.)
- Large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl to strain the fuit juices into
- Large 2 or 4-cup measuring cup to measure how much juice you get
- Tongs for lifting jars out of boiling water
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Food mill with small or medium screen, or screen sieve and spatula
- Soup ladle for filling jars with jelly
- Optional medium sized funnel to make filling jars more accurate
- Grater to zest the orange
- Cake cooling rack
- Paper towels
- Optional candy thermometer (one that goes up to at least 222 degrees F)
- 6 pounds of Concord grapes
- About 6 cups of sugar
- 2-3 cups of water (2 cups if you prefer a more flavorful spread, or 3 cups if you want more jars of grape butter)
- Zest from one orange (about 3-4 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (A little goes a long way; don't overdo the cloves.)
- Juice from one lemon (at least 2 tablespoons)
- Optional half packet of fruit pectin (You can find 1.75 ounce boxes of pectin in the baking section of the grocery store.)
Open the canning jars, placing them upright in the large 5-12 quart saucepan. Fill the pan with water to about 1/2 inch above the jar rims. Place on the stove over medium heat to reach a light simmer.
Wash and de-stem the grapes. Pop the grape pulps out of the skins into the 5 quart sauce pan with a quick squeezing motion. Preserve the skins in a bowl (don't throw them away). De-stemming and squeezing grapes can be a tedious chore. Invite the kids or a friend to help.
Cook the grape pulps slowly over medium-low heat until they're very soft and have given off lots of juice (about 10-15 minutes). Put the heated pulp through the food mill or force it through the sieve into the mixing bowl to remove the seeds.
Return the pulp to the sauce pan and discard the seeds. Add the water (2 cups for more flavorful butter, or 3 cups for more volume) and cook another 10-15 minutes.
Measure the amount of liquid you have in the large measuring cup. Store measured juice in the large bowl until you've measured all the juice. Return the measured juice to the saucepan, and return the saucepan to the heat.
Add the grape skins, and slowly stir in 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice. Add the orange zest, spices, and lemon juice (go easy on the cloves - a little goes a long way). Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. The skins will quickly turn the boiling juice a lovely deep purple. The acidity of the lemon juice acts as a preservative. Fruit butters can be rather soupy. If you want a thicker spread, add a half or whole packet of fruit pectin.
Remove the jars from the simmering water with the tongs and place them upside down on the cooling rack. Place the screw tops and lids in the simmering water.
There are several ways to know if the grape butter is thick enough to be ready. The most accurate way is to use a candy thermometer and wait for the boiling sugar juices to reach 222 degrees F. A less expensive method is to put a large drop of the butter on a cool plate. If no ring of liquid forms around the edge, it's thick enough. Another method is to put a small amount in a spoon, slightly cool it, then turn the spoon sideways. If the butter drops from the edge of the spoon in two side-by-side drops, wait a little longer. When it drops from the spoon in a single large drop, it's ready. It may take as long as a half hour or more of boiling before the butter reaches this thickness.
Once the grape butter is close to the right thickness, turn the glass jars upright and remove the screw rings and caps from the simmering water. Don't discard the hot water yet.
When the right thickness is reached, remove the grape butter from the heat and ladle it into the jars. You can use the funnel to make your pours more accurate. Leave at least 1/4 inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe any butter off the rim of the jars with a damp paper towel. Place the sealing lids on the jars and screw the rings on to a firm but not tight seal. You might not use all the jars you prepared, but it's better to have too many jars ready than not enough. If you have any empty jars left, save them for the next time you make this recipe.
If you will store all your jars of grape butter in the refrigerator, you can wait a few hours for the jars to cool down, then put them in the refrigerator and you're done. However, if you want to store your butter in a cabinet, you will need to continue with the steps below.
Use the tongs to place the sealed jars of butter back into the hot water and return it to a good simmer for 10-15 minutes (longer at higher altitudes). This is called "processing" your butter. You may see bubbles slowly escaping from around the jar lids. Don't worry; it's not from water leaking into your jars. It's actually steam escaping the jars. That's why you had to leave at least a 1/4 inch space at the top of the jars when you filled them - so the air could expand and escape, then contract as it cools and seal the jars.
Remove the jars from the simmering water with the tongs and place them back on the cooling rack. Leave them to cool overnight. You will hear popping sounds as the lids seal themselves. The next day, mark your grape butter with the date you made it. If any safety lids still pop when you press down on them, store those jars in the refrigerator and eat them first. Your processed jelly will last 6 months to a year on the shelf. After opening a jar, store it in the refrigerator.
When I moved into my house, I inherited a young Concord grape vine from the previous owners. I tended the vine for a few years dreaming of the day I would harvest wonderful tasting grapes. Finally, three years later I was able to gather a bowl full of beautiful, deep purple fruit. I couldn't wait to taste what I had worked so patiently tended. I popped one into my mouth and began to chew. Much to my horror, Concord grapes taste downright awful! What was I to do? I thought of just throwing the whole batch away, but couldn't quite bring myself to waste them after all that anticipation. Surely there was something I could do with a couple pounds of foul tasting grapes.
So I went to my "Joy of Cooking" (1964) and "New York Times Cook Book" (1990), looked up Concord grapes, and found recipes in the jelly sections. I had never made jelly before, but "The Joy of Cooking" is loaded with very helpful basic instructions. The "New York Times Cook Book" had an intriguing recipe for a spiced grape butter (apparently a fruit "butter" is a loose sort of jam). So I decided to give it a try. Much to my relief, joy, and pleasure, the grape butter turned out to be the most amazing fruit spread I have ever eaten! The spiced flavor makes it a pefect spread to serve at winter holidays. Now I make a batch every fall and my neighbors eagerly anticipate grape season. Here's my recipe, synthesized from the cookbooks mentioned above.