Ansonica grape jam

Ansonica grape jam

Marmell ata di uva ansonica

By
From
Acquacotta
Makes
2 x 250 ml jars of jam
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

In September, you can find crates spilling over with dusty, pale, copper-tinged grapes – ansonica (also written ‘ansonaco’) grapes to be precise. When the fruit and vegetable shop down the road starts practically giving them away for a euro a kilo, it’s a sign that it’s vendemmia (or grape harvest) season.

When I saw the huge crates of grapes piling up at the fruit shop, I couldn’t help but buy a few kilograms. I may not be able to make wine, but I can always make jam – and I found that these grapes make a wonderful, firm and intensely fragrant jam, rather reminiscent of quince paste, with an unexpectedly intense, rusty colour. It is lovely with cheese, especially something fresh like goat’s curd, or sharp and bitey like a blue cheese. Not far from Orbetello, there is a beautiful farm and winery called La Parrina, where they make a range of delicious sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheeses, including a unique gooey blue cheese called Guttus, which is exactly what I like to eat with this jam.

Making jam with grapes alone is a traditional way to use up excess fruit in central Italy, and it is my preference for this recipe. However, it requires an eagle eye and it is much easier to make this jam with a little sugar in it to help it set (you will, of course, end up with more jam this way, too), so I offer both methods below. Cooking the juice down is the tricky part and reminds me a little of melting sugar down into caramel – you really don’t want to stray too far away from the pot, because it will easily misbehave and go too far. Once, while my back was turned, the jam turned so solid that I couldn’t even cut into it. You could have bounced it off the walls.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1kg ansonica grapes, (or other white grape)
100g sugar

Method

  1. Rinse the grapes and pull most of the grapes off the bunch and off their stems (if some remain, you can always strain them out later). Without patting dry, transfer them to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and place over low heat. As they heat they will begin to release their own juice, and will soon be covered in liquid. But before this happens, you will need to keep an eye on the pot and stir regularly to make sure the grapes at the very bottom don’t stay there too long and burn. Once the liquid is released, you can leave them and let them simmer gently for about 20 minutes, or until they are all soft.
  2. Pour the grapes and their juice into a fine-meshed sieve set over a large bowl. Squash the grapes in the sieve to release the juice/flesh (I do this with a wooden spoon) and make your way through all the grapes this way to separate the juice from the skins and seeds. It can be a little laborious, but a food mill could help you (as long as it doesn’t squash the seeds too – this would create bitterness) and doing it in a few stages is easier.
  3. Pour the juice back into the pot, add the sugar and raise the heat level to high, bringing the mixture to a rolling boil. Cook until the colour of the juice turns a shiny, copper tone – this may be as little as 10–15 minutes for a soft set. Test the jam set by having a saucer in the freezer and placing a teaspoon or so of the cooking jam onto the cold saucer. Turn the saucer around to cool down the jam and see how it behaves – if it’s thick, slides slowly and wrinkles when you poke it, it is perfect.
  4. Remove the jam from the heat and pour carefully into sterilised jam jars (see the section on how to sterilise and seal jars at the beginning of the From The Vegetable Patch chapter).
  5. When sealed properly, the unopened jars of jam can last for several months. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and consume within 2 weeks.

Sugar-free method

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1kg ansonica grapes, (or other white grape)

Method

  1. Follow the instructions for the first method, except do not add sugar.
  2. After straining, place the juice back into the pot and bring to a rolling boil. Cook down until the jam is set. This takes longer than the first method. The best guide to understanding whether the jam is ready is the colour. When it goes back in the pot, it’s an opaque, pastel peach with a hint of green – rather like cloudy apple juice. Then, as it cooks, you’ll watch it turn into the colour of a rusty sunset. It will slowly get darker but you want it to hover around this rosy-rusty, almost honey-toned shade. If it starts heading towards mahogany, it’s gone too far. Use the saucer test as described in the first method to check when the jam is ready.
  3. Remove the jam from the heat and pour carefully into a sterilised jam jar.
  4. When sealed properly, the unopened jar of jam can last for several months. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and consume within 2 weeks.

Variations

  • You can use this sugar-free grape recipe with practically any white grape, although you will probably get different tones and colours with different varieties. It’s even easier to make with red grapes, as you don’t need to strain out the skins or even the seeds (Italians think of grape seeds as adding texture – they give crunch). In that case, you end up with a rather pulpy, fleshy jam.
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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