canning concord grape jam

Finally, an update! A few weeks ago, my grandma convinced Lucas and I that we needed to try canning. Her grapes ripened well and yesterday afternoon we went over and took a nice hefty load of concords off her hands. She ensured us that it would be easy, and after a little pre-canning prep reading online, the whole process really was easy.  And dare I say… fun? Looks like we’ll be gifting some jam this holiday season.

With a diabetic father and sister-in-law, a lot of us in the family watch our sugar intake. My grandma makes jam complete with sugar, but I was determined to make some lower sugar jam so that more of the family could enjoy it. I picked up some SUREJELL brand for Less or No Sugar Needed recipes pectin at Meijer and started looking around for a good recipe. Most recipes required a lot of sugar, and I found out quickly that low or no sugar recipes require some changes to the basic jam recipe. After all of my research on which recipe to use, I felt pretty confident with what we put together; a combination of several low sugar jam recipes to align with the instructions that came with the pectin. Here’s what we came up with:

Lucas and Lesley’s Low Sugar Concord Grape Jam Recipe

7 cups prepared fruit (buy about 5 lb. fully ripe Concord grapes)
1 cup  no sugar added white grape juice
1/4 cup Splenda
1 box  SUREJELL For Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes Premium Fruit Pectin
8-12 (8 oz.) canning jars with accompanying 2-piece lids*

*note: if re-using jars from previous canning sessions, it’s recommended to always buy brand new lids. (Just the flat lid part only, not the screw bands.) You can easily purchase these separately at most grocery stores or other big box stores like Meijer or Wal-Mart.

slipping the skins
slipping the skins

Throw your jars and 2-part lids into the dishwasher to wash them thoroughly. Be sure to turn on a sani-dry or drying process to the cycle; this ensures the jars are nice and hot and dry at the end, which is suitable for hot jam. The jars need to be hot when you pour the hot jam into them so that they don’t break from the temperature difference. Using your dishwasher (if you have one) eliminates the need for hot water to keep the jars warm in while you prepare the jam. Alternately you can wash the jars and lids by hand with soap and water and then keep them in warm (not boiling) water until you’re ready to fill them. While you should keep the jars and flat lids warm until use, keep the screw bands separate and cool to make closing up your hot jars later a little easier. You don’t want the water to boil because boiling the flat lid before using it to create a seal may warp them and not allow them to seal properly later.

separating the seeds
separating the seeds

Slip the skins from the grapes, separating the pulp from the skins. Toss the skins into a food processor and blend; set aside. Combine grape pulp and white grape juice in a saucepan and bring to boil; cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Toss the cooked pulp through a Foley press or run through a sieve to remove the seeds. Now combine the skins and pulp in a big bowl; this is considered “prepared fruit.” Measure exactly 7 cups of prepared fruit into a large 8 quart saucepot and put it back on the heat.

Mix the 1/4 cup of Splenda and pectin in a small bowl. Add it to the fruit in saucepot; stir to mix well. OPTIONALLY you can add 1/2 tsp. of butter to reduce foaming, if you have any foaming. Bring the fruit to a full rolling boil on high heat and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam if necessary.

processing our jam
processing our jam

The dishwasher cycle should be complete; pull the hot, dry jars from the dishwasher and place on a towel on the counter. Ladle the fruit into the prepared jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe the jar rims and threads. Cover the jars with the two-piece lids and screw bands tightly. Place the jars on an elevated rack in a giant pot of water on the stove, or in a canner. If you don’t have a rack or canner, you can use extra screw bands or metal cookie cutters and tie them together and use them on the bottom of the pot to elevate your jars. Submerge the jars; the water in the pot must cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add more boiling water if necessary. Cover; bring water to a gentle boil. Let the jars process for 10 minutes in the gently boiling water. Using tongs, remove the jars and place them upright on a towel to cool completely. After the jars cool, check the seals by pressing the middles of the lids with your finger. If the lids spring back, they did not seal properly and you can try again. If you don’t want to try and re-seal, the jam is still perfectly useable, but refrigeration will be required and it won’t have the same shelf life as your properly sealed jars.

Ball brand No Sugar Needed fruit pectin
Ball brand No Sugar Needed fruit pectin

About the Sugar
This method only adds around 4 grams of sugar (from the low sugar juice) per jar of jam you make, so it makes ridiculously low sugar grape jam that tastes deliciously fresh, allowing the natural sugars of the grapes to provide all of the flavor. Alternately you can use 1 cup of water in place of the 1 cup of grape juice to eliminate all added sugar, but the juice gives just a hint of sweetness to keep the grapes from being a bit tart without pouring on cup after cup of granulated sugar. The 1/4 cup of Splenda added in with the pectin is negligible and can be omitted completely if you’d prefer.

And there you have it! After the jars cooled and we had checked the seals and found them to be satisfactory, we just let the jars of jam sit, undisturbed, for 12-24 hours. I plan to knit doilies to adorn the jar lids and make pretty little tags for them before we gift them this holiday season. Enjoy, and good luck making jam!