Wednesday, August 22, 2012

bird pecked Concord grapes

bird pecked Concord grapes, 
purple slip skins split open,
glistening pulp popped out

I'm down on my knees, carefully gathering the dark blue and purple globes of Concord grapes, leaving the green ones to ripen. All of the grapes are covered with a translucent "bloom," scratched here and there where the grape has rubbed against a leaf or vine -- Concord calligraphy.

Our Concord grapes did well this year, in spite of the drought, with lots of clusters hidden under the canopy of green leaves. They certainly retain the hardiness of their wild ancestor, from which they were developed in 1849 by Ephraim Wale Bull of Concord, Massachusetts.

The ground is strewn with fallen grapes, many of them broken open, the glistening green pulp popped out of the slip skin. It looks like the work of birds -- chipmunks, raccoons and deer would eat the whole fruit.

I'm also popping grapes into my mouth as I pick, one of the pleasant perks of harvesting. The pulp slips out of the thick skin easily. The juice is sweet and a little tart, not like sugar-bomb seedless grapes, but I have to work to extract the seeds from the viscous pulp. A few seeds get crunched, but that's all right, because grape seed polyphenols are a potent antioxidant. The skins of these grapes, because they are not completely ripe, are a bit astringent, but I swallow them because purple grape skins also contain a powerful antioxidant.

Some insect has been eating the grape leaves, leaving a trail of holes. Well, people in many cultures eat stuffed grape leaves, but I don't care to sample bitter leaves with my mouth full of grape juice.

My father raised grapes on proper trellises, and he spent a lot of time training the grapes with his pruning shears, nipping the vines here and there, and sometimes the grape clusters, to encourage more production of grapes. Concord grapes are good for fresh grape juice but not wine. With the ripe grapes he also made grape jelly, which we slathered on our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And he pressed the green grapes to make nonalcoholic verjus (verJHOO), an unfermented alternative to vinegar. Unlike vinegar's strong acidic taste, verjus is sweet, tart and mildly acidic, great on salads and lightly steamed vegetables. 

I'm not as diligent as my father. Our grapes grow up, along, over and down the low split bamboo fence on the west side of the house. In the fall I cut back some of the vines that are trailing on the ground and use the pliant vines to make lovely wreaths. 

But mostly the grape vines train themselves, sending out curving tendrils that wrap around anything they come in contact with -- other vines, other plants or the fence.

If they don't encounter anything within some mysterious time limit, the tendrils curve back and wrap around themselves.

Even though this tendril has not accomplished its mission of anchoring the vine, it still succeeds in creating a beautiful work of art.

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