10.31.2016

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We started to pick wild Concord grapes at the end of September. Our neighbor’s side yard is overflowing with vines and they generously share the goods with us. Nick, who makes Beach Plum Jelly every August, decided to try his hand at Concord Grape Jam. It turned out perfectly – sweet, tart, and full of the unmistakeable grape flavor that reminds me of bubble gum and cough syrup (in a good way).

A couple of weeks ago, the Island hosted a Local Wild Food Challenge. We go every year, mostly to cheer friends on who enter and see the crazy dishes coming out of the kitchen – wild pheasant, mallard duck, chestnuts, Russian olives, watercress, and lots of venison. This year, Dylan decided to enter the kids baking contest and he wanted to make “jam bars” with the grape jam. Great! The day came, I had all the ingredients ready and got Gray down for a nap. Dylan decides he is too tired to make jam bars. I decide to make them, toss in some rosemary as my adult spin, and enter.

We win best dessert that night. The boys and I walk up and accept our prizes and take in the cheers. In typical fashion, Nick is in the bathroom and misses everything. But, these are damn good Concord Grape Shortbread Bars with Rosemary, that’s for sure.

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Concord Grape Jam

Makes 6 half-pint jars

8 cups Concord grapes

¼ cup water

6 cups granulated sugar

½ a lemon, juiced

½ teaspoon unsalted butter

First separate the grape skins from the pulp by squeezing the grapes between your fingers. Put the skins in the bowl of a food processor with 2 cups of sugar and pulse until they are coarsely chopped.

Place the grape pulp in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the grapes lose their shape, mashing every few minutes with a potato masher. This takes about 10 minutes. Pour the grape pulp through a strainer into a large bowl. Force out as much pulp as you can and discard the seeds.

Put the cleaned grape pulp back into the saucepan and add in the grape skin sugar, remaining 4 cups of sugar, lemon juice, and butter.  Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, skimming off foam as it forms.

While the jam cooks, prepare the jars. Place the six jars in a large pot, cover with water, and boil for 10 minutes. Place the lids and rings in a separate pot, boil, then turn the heat down to low to keep warm.

Once the jam has thickened and reached a gel-like state, pour the jam mixture into the prepared jars. Close the tops and let stand until set. Jar lids will pop when sealed.

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Concord Grape Shortbread Bars with Rosemary

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup Concord grape jam, at room temperature

2 tablespoons minced rosemary
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a hand mixer) until soft and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix well.

Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze at least 2 hours or overnight (or as long as a month, if you like).

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand or with the grating disk in a food processor into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Make sure the surface is covered evenly with shreds of dough.

With a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut off, squeeze the jam over the surface as evenly as possible, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Sprinkle jam with rosemary. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

Bake until lightly golden brown and the center no longer wiggles, 50 to 60 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Cool on a wire rack, then cut in the pan with a serrated knife. I find that for this an all bar cookies, chilling the pan in the fridge makes it a lot easier to get clean cuts.

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