May Featured Jam: American Spoon Valiant Grape Jelly
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(Grape Juice, Sugar, Pectin, Lemon Juice)
Since 1982, American Spoon has been preserving exquisite locally grown fruit in their Petoskey, MI, kitchen. After all these years, their crew of skilled cooks still prepares fruits by hand and cooks them with care using wooden paddles and small-batch copper kettles. They also still work directly with a dedicated group of Michigan farmers who grow the varieties of fruits they love: varieties bred over generations specifically for their unparalleled taste and unique character. In addition to sharing a favorite table utensil, Big Spoon Roasters and American Spoon share an unwavering dedication to ingredient integrity, singular flavor, and relationship-based sustainable sourcing practices.
The artisans at American Spoon are also just plain good at making jam, and it was difficult to choose just one of their jams as the May 2017 Featured Jam, but during a recent tasting, we kept coming back to one particular jar for its absolute perfect intensity, and so the choice was made for us. But first, a story.
Two miles from American Spoon’s Petoskey kitchen, retired dentist Art Denton grows Valiant Grapes, a domesticated variety of northern-growing, cold-hardy wild grapes. The clusters consist of small, dense, deep purple grapes with an intense flavor that has the brambly complexity of a wild grape mixed with the familiar flavor of a Concord. Art has been growing grapes for American Spoon for about six years now, and while he has figured out how to outwit the birds who like to gorge themselves on his grapes each fall, he still has trouble with figuring out Michigan’s short growing season.
During last year’s brutally long and cold winter, snow piled up so high that Art's plants had six inches of snow on the ground as the vines shot out new tendrils of growth throughout the slow-melting spring. Still, Art kept a watchful eye over the clusters of remaining grapes as they ripened from pale green to deep, dark purple, and in late fall he harvested about 3000 pounds of Valiants, just as the snow was starting to fall again. Once American Spoon got the grapes to their kitchen, they washed and sorted the grapes, then steamed them to burst their skins. Before last year, they had crushed the grapes in an antique screw press, but this year, they upgraded to a modern hydro-bladder press, which squeezes juice from pulp with less waste. The grape juice is then mixed with a little sugar, a little lemon, and pectin to help it set while being cooked down in copper kettles to a rich, jammy jelly with incomparable grape intensity.