The day before writing this, I came back from the store with many kinds of fresh fruit, but mostly grapes. I even bought some of the new Cotton Candy grapes. I was a bit skeptical about whether or not they tasted like cotton candy (which I love even though it isn’t good for me), but lo and behold, that first grape actually did taste like the candy it’s named after. After that, however, my taste buds couldn’t be fooled. They still tasted good, but not in the same way as that first bite.
My dad and grandparents used to have a couple of old-fashioned Concord grape vines on the ranch when I was growing up, and despite the seeds, they were the most flavorful grapes I have ever tasted. My dad was always happy when my mom made him a pie from those grapes. I know it sounds awful, but he called it slip-gut pie. That was because you squeezed each grape so the insides popped out of the skins. Back in 1980, when I learned of his sudden death, I arrived to discover my mom had an unfinished Concord grape pie in the refrigerator. She wasn’t home at the time, so despite all the grief, it was somehow comforting to finish making that pie. I wonder if he was watching.
I thought we could wander around in grape land this week and explore a few recipes that utilize fresh grapes. Let’s see what we can stir up.
Erwin’s favorite grape pie
1 baked pastry shell
4 cups Concord grapes
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
1. Wash grapes. Squeeze out pulp and save skins. Place pulp in saucepan and bring slowly to a boil. Boil 5 minutes. Force through a strainer to remove seeds. Combine pulp and skins.
2. Mix sugar, cornstarch, water and salt. Add to pulp mixture. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Add cinnamon and butter.
3. Pour into baked pie shell, cool until set. Store in refrigerator.
Fresh grape juice
This isn’t much of a recipe as far as measurements or complicated instructions go, but it sure is delicious and worth making.
1 pound seedless California grapes, any combination of red, green and black
About 1/2 cup water
1. Fill the jar of your blender 3/4 of the way with grapes and add a splash of water. Blend on high at least 1 minute.
2. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, pressing down on the solids in the strainer with a large spoon to extract every last bit of juice. Serve chilled. Makes about 2 cups.
Chicken salad with grapes, cashews, apples and dill
I have seen variations of this recipe, but I like the combination of flavors and textures in this one, provided by the folks at Betty Crocker. I would add some chopped celery to this recipe.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled and diced
1 cup seedless red grapes, each cut in half
1 cup salted cashews
1 small Gala apple, finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 to 1 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise (I prefer regular, but it’s up to you)
Juice of 1 lime (about 1 to 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
1. In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients until well mixed, adding salt and pepper to taste.
2. Cover and chill before serving. Can be presented on a bed of lettuce leaves, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Rustic grape tart
1 cup flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon flour
2 1/4 cups seedless red grapes
2 1/4 cups seedless black grapes
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400. To prepare crust, lightly spoon 1 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 1 cup flour, cornmeal, 3 tablespoons sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor; pulse 4 times or until blended. Add chilled butter; pulse 6 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, slowly pour orange juice through food chute, processing just until blended (do not allow dough to form a ball).
2. Press mixture gently into a 4-inch circle on plastic wrap; cover. Chill for 15 minutes. Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap and place chilled dough on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap; place dough, plastic wrap side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle dough with 1 teaspoon flour.
3. To prepare filling, combine grapes, 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and cinnamon. Spoon into center of dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold edges of dough toward center, pressing gently to seal (dough will only partially cover grape mixture). Combine water and egg yolk; brush over edges of dough. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over grape mixture and dough, if desired. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until crust is brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Grape freezer pops
If you have access to varieties of grapes used for making wine, those are great choices to use. If not, the table grapes are good, too. No worries.
2 1/4 pounds fresh, flavorful grapes (such as Muscat, Zinfandel, Concord or a wine-making variety), rinsed and stemmed (Note: You should have about 3 cups of juice. This can also be made with a high-quality bottled grape juice if you like.)
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (or equal amount of mild honey)
1. In a large non-reactive pot, add the grapes along with the water. Cover, stirring from time to time, and cook until the grapes are soft.
2. Remove from heat and pass the grapes through a food mill with the attachment with the smallest holes. If you don’t have a food mill, press them through a fine-mesh strainer, which will take a bit of force. Different grapes will yield differing amounts of juice.
3. Add the sugar and corn syrup (or honey) and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Chill thoroughly, then pour into freezer molds, adding wooden stick handles if your plastic molds do not have their own. Freeze until firm. Can also be poured into an ice-cream maker and eaten as a sorbet. Makes about 1 quart.