WELL, I HOPE YOU LIKE PICTURES OF GRAPES.
This past weekend was the very last weekend to pick our Concord grapes, which have gone completely cuh-razy this year.
They were so ripe, some of them were spontaneously dripping on the vine
and the birds and the yellow jackets were having a continual feast. Buzz buzz buzz, gobble gobble gobble.
So we got some scissors, and some buckets and boxes and bowls
and we snipped off as many bunches of grapes as we could before we got too scared of getting stung.
It was quite a lot!
Last year, we picked about this many, and made grape jelly, which turned out . . . not wonderful. Some of it never set right, and some of it did, but it turns out nobody really likes grape jelly all that much. But we sure did make a lot of it! So this year, my goal was to process the grapes into something people actually wanted.
The kids voted for juice, and I wanted to try gelato or sorbet, so we split the grapes up and made both.
The first step was to clean and de-stem them.
This took about two-and-a-half hours. Because I only do this once a year, I’m always shocked and amazed to discover that tannins or histamines or something in Concord grapes make your hands itch all the way up to the elbows. But we forged ahead, rescued several spiders, snails, and other annoyed critters, and finally got through the whole harvest. The green ones you see here are not unripe; they are so ripe that the skins have sloughed right off.
Toward the end I became fascinated by the many forms taken by rotten grapes, especially those whose innards had been sucked out by birds and bees and whose skins were left intact to wither around the seeds. Sometimes the skins are gone but the translucent flesh remains with the seeds just visible inside, giving it a startlingly embryonic look. I took uhhh kind of a lot of pictures of rotting grapes, but I won’t share any of them! I’ll just keep them for myself, for reasons.
I lined the cooler with a kitchen trash bag and filled that sucker with clean grapes.
The first project was sorbet. I chose a very simple recipe (non-hinky, with reviews this time, unlike the mysterious blueberry sorbet evaporating recipe). I also treated myself to a larger sieve, after the somewhat unhappy experience making twice-sieved Lucky Charms-infused ice cream.
Grape sorbet is very simple. Two ingredients, and only a few steps. I used this Epicurious recipe. You throw the raw grapes in the blender and puree them. The seeds survive the blender, but part of the skins get pulped up, so you end up with a pretty thick raw grape pulp. This you dump into the sieve
and push it through, leaving the seeds and some skin debris behind
Then you whisk some superfine sugar into the pulp.
Superfine sugar is finer than regular granulated sugar, but not as fine as powdered sugar. I made it by whirring granulated sugar in the food processor for two minutes while whispering “ssssuperfine” to myself.
Several of the comments in the Epicurious recipe said to use half the amount of sugar in the recipe. I tried this, but everyone who tasted it gasped and said “WOW” like in the vodka scene in Stalag 17, so I ended up using about 3/4 the full amount of sugar called for (I made a double recipe). I don’t know if our grapes are just more snarly or what, but they did need some sweetening up. Here’s the grape and sugar mixture.
I don’t know if anyone else is fascinated by the subtle changes in color and texture throughout the process, but I could do this all day, pushing grape mash through sieves, running it through blenders, dumping it in and out of various bowls and pots, blorp blorp. In fact it is what I did pretty much all day, and all weekend. My therapist is going to be so happy.
So you chill the grape and sugar mixture for several hours, and then you can put it into the ice cream machine. I discovered I hadn’t put both freezer bowls in the freezer, though, so I ended up chilling the grape mixture overnight and finishing making the grape sorbet in the morning.
I also made a double batch of Neapolitan trail mix ice cream with a Ben and Jerry’s vanilla cream base.
I also had about 2-1/2 cups of grape pulp left over, that I never added sugar to. I just stored that in the fridge to think about. And that was about enough excitement for one day!
The next day, Sunday, first thing in the morning, I put the chilled sorbet mix into the ice cream machine for half an hour, and then into the freezer.
Then after Mass, we got started on the juice. I followed these instructions. (She also took a lot of grape photos.)
The first step is to mash the grapes with a potato masher. We did it in several batches.
Benny changed into purple, in preparation for splashes.
A few times, I ran the mixture through the sieve to separate out the solids to mash again, so the skinless grapes didn’t just slip away from the masher along with the juice.
Then you put the juice and mash, seeds and crushed skins and all, into a big pot
and bring it to a simmer, and let it go for ten minutes. It looks very dire and occult at this point. Strange purplish frothy scum collects, and then bright raspberry-colored lava seethes up from underneath. It smells ancient and wonderful.
Everybody is impressed by this part.
Then you run the mixture through a sieve, or through cheesecloth. I know I have cheesecloth in this house somewhere. I remember bagging it after the jelly debacle, grimly thinking “Next time will be different.” I looked for a while, then gave up and called the convenience store and made them look, was delighted to hear that they do have some; gave Benny some instructions for how to keep the pot from boiling over, grabbed my purse, and . . . remembered I don’t have a car. So, sieve it was. This is fine, except that you’re supposed to let it sit for several hours or overnight, and the sieve was only big enough to hold about 1/3 of the grapes. I ended up putting some grape mash in the sieve over a bowl and the rest carefully in a colander, just hoping the seeds wouldn’t slip through the holes.
After a while, I started smushing the pulp in the sieve to help it finish dripping, and then I transferred the colander pulp to the sieve and smushed that too. I’ll smush you all, eventually.
And that, my friends, is how you make grape juice. Everything that drips through is 100% pure, powerful, pungent, tart, extra-purple grape juice. It’s the grapiest. It tastes the way it feels to dive from a hot sunny rock down into a cool dim pond. Sploosh!
Look at those beaded bubbles winking at the brim.
I have to say that at least once a year, to prove I went to college.
You can add some sugar if it’s too tart, but we thought it was great the way it was. I don’t know why the grape juice was sweet enough without sugar when the grape sorbet was too sour. I suppose the cooking brought out the sugar in the fruit.
We got about three quarts of juice.
Of course it was still hot from cooking, so I put it in the fridge to cool. You’re supposed to run it through a sieve a second time to get any sediment out, but I forgot.
Then I remembered that last bit of leftover raw pulp! I briefly considered grape pie, but I just don’t think people want that. At least, not on the same night as we have grape juice and grape sorbet.
So I found an old sheet and tore it until it was about the size of a curtain. I mixed the 2-1/2 cups of grape pulp with four cups of water and four heaping tablespoons of salt, heated that up, and then started simmering the cloth.
It made me feel extraordinarily thrifty to be using up every last bit of the grapes we picked. Basically Kristin Lavransdatter over here, whipping Husaby into shape. I simmered the cloth for about three hours. There wasn’t quite enough dye to submerge it, so I knew it was going to come out somewhat splotchy, but all I had to lose was a torn sheet and some leftover mashed grapes.
It was covered with gritty little bits of grape crud when it was done
so I rinsed it off in the shower and let it dry. Tah dah! On Monday morning, after drying overnight, it was most definitely a pleasant lavender shade, and seems to be colorfast.
But back to Sunday. After supper, we had the trail mix ice cream and the grape sorbet. I was delighted at how it came out. It was luscious. Dusky and tart, but not sour, just very intense and refreshing.
Will absolutely make again, and we’re getting ideas for other fruit sorbets. Next time I make Indian food, I think a mango sorbet would be so nice. Possibly even . . . . superfine.
And that is the story of how I used up all the grapes, and I didn’t get stung, and I didn’t even yell at anyone! Please clap.