Taste of the Season: Grapes
by JEREMY FLETCHER
Not every final product satisfies the same way as the original. Don’t like potatoes but love French fries? Not a fan of milk but can’t pass up an ice cream? Meet the grape. You know where wine comes from, and nothing need be said about San Joaquin’s love affair with vino, but what about yet another of California’s grape-derived favorites? Here’s a hint… We heard it through the grapevine…
With a season lasting from August to December in Northern California, the grape is the rare fruit that gains more attention for its versatility and what it can produce than for the stand-alone deliciousness of the actual fruit (although grapes are a tasty snack all on their own). Jam, jelly, vinegar, wine, raisins, and juice—all produced from this both seedy and seedless fruit.
California alone produces 98 percent of the fresh grapes grown within the United States annually. About one-third of those grapes are shipped to more than 60 countries worldwide, and each American gobbles down eight pounds of the fruit a year on average per person. In fact, of all the grapes produced yearly, about 13 percent accounts for table grapes, up to 30 percent are converted to raisins, and almost 6 percent are made into jams and jellies. The last 50 percent or so are pressed into Cabernets, Zinfandels, Merlots, and more.
Not all grapes are not created equal, however. Grapes are categorized into four main groups and then broken down into specific variations—the table grape, raisin grape, juice grape, and the wine grape, and within those four groups are over sixty varieties.
1. Rinse thoroughly 4 to 5 lbs. of red, purple, or green seedless grapes. Add a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice to the water to preserve the color and flavor of the fruit. Pat the grapes dry with a paper towel and remove the grapes from the stems.
2. Spread the grapes out evenly on a large plate or a cookie sheet. Place a cheesecloth or a clean, unused pillowcase over the grapes. Covering the grapes will keep them free of dust or insects.
3. Place the grapes in an area outside where there is direct sunlight. For best results, put them out in hot, humid temperatures of 85 degrees or higher. Wait three or four days for the grapes to shrink.
4. Sample some raisins to see how they taste. Drying out the raisins may take longer depending on how you like them. When you’re ready, store the homemade raisins in an airtight plastic container and cover them with a lid. Once the raisins are formed, they are ready for snacking. Add them to your favorite salads or use them in muffins, cookies, or bread.
1. Wash grapes and drain.
2. Put into large kettle, and cook over medium heat until your grapes are soft, approximately 10-15 minutes.
3. Place the grapes into a jelly bag so that the juice drains out into a jar or pot below. Don’t add water. Put about 2 cups at a time into the bag, no more. The jelly bag will collect the pulp, skin, and any seeds, while the juice that you will use for the jelly drains out. Squeeze the juice through the bag with clean hands or by pressing it gently with a spoon. Empty and discard the pulp periodically if the juice is draining too slowly. Rinse the bag if needed.
5. Bring two cups of juice to a full boil. Reduce heat to low-medium, and add 2 cups sugar. Once sugar is added, do not let the mixture boil. Stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved; otherwise, it will crystallize if the sugar is not completely dissolved.
6. Pour immediately into glass jars, clean the rims of the jars, place lids and seals on the jars, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.