When we think of Concord grapes, we think of glasses of dark purple juice, and the only type of jelly that should ever go on bread. What is it about Concords that makes them the most recognizable jelly in the US and the grape juice most people drink?
From it’s humble New England beginning to its rise in prominence, the Concord grape has had a unique journey to recognition. This beautiful purple grape is as American as apple-pie and its story is uniquely tied to US history.
Let’s take a minute to learn a little more about the Concord grape and this grape’s rise to prominence.
Where Did It Come From
Grapes have been cultivated since 1,000 BC. The majority of grapes got their origin in the Mediterranean. Not the Concord grape.
The Concord grape got its start from a wild grape that was native to New England. Ephraim Wales Bull took 20,000 native grapes and cultivated them until he developed what he found to be the perfect grape. The Concord gets its name from Concord Massachusetts where Ephraim successfully developed this grape in1854.
In 1865 dentist and Methodist minister Dr. Thomas Welch was experimenting in his kitchen trying to find a way to keep grape juice from fermenting and turning into wine. He believed that wine was inappropriate for communion because it could cause intoxication.
He and his family gathered 40 pounds of Concord grapes they had grown, made them into juice, stopped them, sealed them with wax, and boiled the bottles.
This method based on Louis Pasteur’s work successfully prevented fermenting yeast to form in the bottles. It was used at the Methodist church for the Sacrament, and orders soon began coming in. Dr. Welch soon began producing his juice on a large scale, and by 1897 he was processing 300 tons of grapes.
Welch’s again made innovations with grapes in 1918, this time under the direction of Thomas Welch’s son, Charles. The jelly we are familiar with today was introduced as war rations.
It was called Grapelade, and the American soldiers loved it so much they were clamoring for it when they returned from the front lines. Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly was released commercially in 1923.
The introduction of peanut butter into soldiers’ rations in World War II cemented the Concord grapes’ place in our hearts and on our sandwiches. The Peanut Butter and jelly sandwich made its first appearance at that time, and the rest is history.
What Do They Taste Like?
Concords have a deep, sweet flavor, that finishes off with a tartness that keeps them from being overwhelmingly sweet. Concords will be sweetest at the peak of their harvesting time. This flavor is what makes them so common in jam and jelly. They are the grape most often used in grape pies and are used to make Kosher wine.
Concords are a shade darker when they are ready to be harvested. The vine color also changes as the grapes mature, from green to brown, and finally to black when the harvesting season has passed. Ripe grapes need to be clipped off the vine and not pulled.
Concord grapes have a slip-skin, and the pulp is easily separated from the peel. While this makes them good for cooking and juicing, it does cause difficulty in shelving them in stores, which is why they are difficult to find. They are one of the most common grapes grown in the US, 417,000 tons are produced annually.
How To Use Concord Grapes
Concord grapes are a versatile fruit, and can be used in any different and creative ways.
The first delicious way to use Concord grapes is to spread it on a sandwich with smooth peanut butter.
Frozen grapes make a refreshing treat on a hot day or a fun garnish to a glass of sparkling water. Toss a few sliced grapes on a salad with goat cheese and some almonds.
Jazz up a homemade salsa by adding a little sweetness with grapes. The combination of sweet with spicy tastes great and is a fun spin on traditional salsa.
There are more tasty ways these grapes can be used. Besides making your own jellies or grape juice, there are some fun recipes you can try with Concord grapes.
- Concord Grape pie
- Concord Grape Sorbet
- Concord Grape Gummies
- Concord Grape Muffins
- Concord Grape Frozen Yogurt
- Lamb Chops with Concord grape sauce
- Pan-Seared Salmon with Concord Grape Sauce
Grapes aren’t usually thought of as a fruit that you cook or bake with. The rich flavor of Concord grapes makes them an excellent choice both for desserts and for savory dishes.
Fruit pairs well with savory meals, and has historically been combined with meat to make an elegant dish.
If you have any inspiration for ways you can use Concord grapes, don’t be afraid to try them. You may create your new favorite dish.
If you want to experiment and try cooking with grapes and can’t find Concords, a red or black grape will make a suitable substitute.
Where Can I Find Concord Grapes
Concord grapes grow in zones 4-9 and come into season in fall. When in season you may be able to find them in a farmers market. You can also find Concords at some orchards. Orchards with grape vines often offer “pick your own grapes”.
Most Concords are grown in New York’s Finger Lakes District, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Southwestern Michigan, and the Yakima Valley in Washington. In a return to their origins some Concords can still be found growing wild.
Growing Your Own Concord Grapes
If you want to start growing a fruit that has multiple uses, you might want to try growing Concord grapes. You can make your own jellies and preserves, bake with them, or just eat them. Concords grow best in zones 4-9 and are cold tolerant. The climate in the Midwest is particularly well suited to growing Concord grapes.
Grapes require a little more effort than some other fruit, but they are picturesque as well as useful. Concords are one of the easiest grapes to grow, so if you are a grape growing novice, these would be a good vine to start with.
Don’t be disappointed if your vines don’t produce fruit in the first year you plant them. Grapes can take up to three years to start producing fruit.
As you prune the plant, be careful that you do not trim off the canes that will produce the fruit, or growth will be further delayed.
If you’re worried you don’t have the room to successfully grow grapes, get out there and by a vine! Grapes can be grown in containers provided it is large enough and drains properly.
They can also be grown next to a fence or a properly anchored trellis. Find a reputable nursery for your plants, and try to find one-year-old plants that are certified virus-free.
- Check your soil pH. Ideally you want it to be between 5.5 and 7.0.
- Find an area with full sun, preferably facing south. Grapes need morning sun but are tolerant of afternoon shade.
- Plant in early spring. Concords are ready to harvest in mid-fall. You will no when your grapes are ready to harvest by the taste and the color.
- Before planting, clip off broken or withered roots.
- If you are planting a larger area, and not in a container place your vines 6-10 feet apart.
- Place your vines in a 12-inch hole and place a stake next to them. Tie the fine to your stake or trellis to help direct their growth.
- Water them once or twice a week, and make sure your soil is draining properly to prevent mildew on the roots.
- Protect your young vines from rabbits and deer with a mesh net.
- Grapes do not need to be fertilized the first year. You will need to begin fertilizing in the second year.
Concords are sensitive to some herbicides and are susceptible to the pest phylloxera. So take care when planting or using herbicides around your grapes.
Concord Grape Fun Facts
Concord grapes can produce over 20lbs of fruit per vine and can live for over 40 years.
The St. James Winery in Missouri is said to have several pre-Prohibition vines.
Concord grapes have amazing health benefits, they are filled with Vitamin C and heart-healthy phytonutrients.
Concord grapes saved Missouri vineyards during prohibition. Growers in St. James contracted with Welch’s to save their vines from being destroyed.
Wines made from Concords are sweet and fruity. They are produced in a way that is similar to the way white wines are made.
Grape flavored candies are flavored like Concord grapes.
Ephraim Wales Bull would be pleased and amazed to see the way his grapes took off throughout the United States.
With a role in both World Wars and the main focus of a major company that still exists today, the Concord grape is a mini-marvel. Let’s raise a glass ( of grape juice) to the Concord Grape.