What You'll Learn

  1. Introduction
  2. The Recipe
The century-old grapevine in Jeff and Janet Bernards' yard has gotten its fair share of attention during the course of the Concord Cottage project, and in one episode fans will even see Janet learn the art of jelly-making from her friend Jo-Ann Lovejoy. As anyone who's ever created any dish from scratch can tell you, there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of turning pure, fresh ingredients into a homemade concoction. Turning backyard grapes into Concord grape jelly is no exception.

An Italian greengrocer from Staten Island would seem to be an unlikely inspiration for this quintessentially New England treat, but Jo-Ann Lovejoy was born Jo-Ann Giordano and the greengrocer was her grandfather, who imbued his family with a love for the rhythm of the seasons, a respect for fresh food, and the joy of preserving summer's bounty.

"We were taught how to choose the best and the freshest items," says Jo-Ann. "Second rate would never do when it came to produce. I can remember the large bunches of purple grapes nestled in large wooden crates lined with fine tissue paper to prevent smashing. It was a feast for the eyes! My grandfather had a large walk-in refrigerator where much of the produce and fruit was kept. It was fun to walk inside, but cold, and filled with neatly stacked boxes waiting their turn to be unpacked."

The Giordano family made plenty of grape juice for the kids, and wine for the adults. Jo-Ann says she remembers the wine well, although the kids of the family didn't like to drink it. "My cousin Donald has maintained the tradition," she says. "In fact I just received some wine from him this summer."

Jo-Ann carries on the family tradition in a slightly different form. She married a New Englander, and the family now divides their time between a home in Concord and a farm in New Hampshire. "I like to think of our marriage as the perfect blend of Yankee frugality and immigrant poverty," says Jo-Ann. "Although they come from different roots, both seem to arrive at the same place: Make the best of everything around you and let nothing go to waste. The summer's bounty preserved in a jar defines who I am and who we are as a family."

Jo-Ann allows the seasons to dictate her canning schedule, from rhubarb in the spring to strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries in the summer to honey from her beehives in September and cranberries and pears in October. It's a busy schedule that she says keeps her in touch with the seasonality of life.

"I often make jelly and jam with odd amounts of fruit, without using pectin," she says. "For example, my friend Jennifer gave me a couple of quinces from her tree, so I just cut them up into small dice, added some sugar, and let it boil until it thickened. I then removed it from the stove and jarred it up. Often, I'll only have a few raspberries at a time from my patch so I'll just cook them up in an odd lot and we'll enjoy it for breakfast the following morning. It really opens up a lot of possibilities."

For less experienced or adventurous jelly-makers, Jo-Ann agreed to share a foolproof blueprint for making Concord grape jelly. This recipe uses pectin and is a bit more predictable for novices, she says.

Jo-Ann adds one more tip from her kitchen: Always make jelly with a friend. Not only will the extra pair of hands be useful during critical moments, but it's more fun!

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