Produce: Grapes

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Let's start this with an important question. When you eat grapes, do you:

  1. Spit out the seeds and the skin (or daintily peel off the skin)
  2. Spit out the seeds, but eat the skin
  3. Swallow the seeds, leave the skin
  4. Eat 'em both!

I am, and have always been, no. 4. I only spit the seeds out if they are humongous, like the ones in Concord grapes. But I mentioned that I, um, swallow, to someone and they were horrified, like the seeds were doing horrible things to my gut. Why? Grape seeds are good for you, no? I've never had a tummy ache from grape seed ingestion.

Moving right along...

September to October is really a great time for a fruit maniac like me. Summer fruit like raspberries, blueberries, peaches and plums are at the tail end of their season, while fall fruits such as pears, apples and tree berries like elderberries are bursting onto the scene.

I love grapes. But honestly, who doesn't? Fresh sweet grapes are the perfect bite-size snack. Put a bowl of them besides me and I'll pop them in my mouth until they disappear. Frozen, they become mini-ice candies.

Nowadays grapes are available year-round, from greenhouses located around the globe. They all seem to grow the same boring varieties though: pale green, dark purple, and seedless variants of both, all uniform in size and appearance. Sometimes, you may encounter luscious big muscat grapes - at a premium price. But right at this time (in the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere) is grape season, and if you are lucky, your local farmers' market may have some more unusual varieties to try. Here are two that are available at my local markets right now.

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The pale grapes in this photo are Chasselas, a very old variety. The AA battery is there for size comparison - as you can see the grapes are very small compared to modern table grapes. Chasselas are a pale green-yellow in color with a little blush of wine red, and have a luminescent, translucent quality - you can see right through to the seeds. Most Chasselas end up as wine - in my limited experience, Chasselas wine is as delicate as the grapes they are made from. For eating they lack the punch of modern grapes, but I love their subtle flavor.

The dark ones are called Nostrano Americano, or just Americano, and are also used to make wine, though are more often used to make liqueurs or unfermented juice. (They have a less elegant name too - Chatzeseicherli in Swiss German, or chat-pisse in French. No idea why!) They are available at the markets, but the ones in the photo are actually from our garden. We have some old vines growing rampant up the walls of an old shed-like building in the garden. The building is about 180 years old or something, and the vines are maybe 50 years old. Obviously they like growing where they are.

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We don't do anything to take care of them except to prune it back a bit, and the vines are never fed, so the grapes are quite small. But what a taste they have! They have an intense dark grape juice flavor, not the diluted grape juice taste of most modern table grapes. The skins have a tannin flavor to them which I find really nice (and I eat the skin!). I have yet to consciously encounter a wine make with just this grape though....

Chili und Ciabatta has a grape jelly recipe (in German) using Americano grapes.

So, go out to your local markets and see what unusual grapes you can find. You may never look at a boring old supermarket grape again.

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