Tag Archives: garden

Gramps & grapes.

22 Sep
Gramps

'Red' looking dapper.

This is my grandfather, known to friends and family as Gramps, or ‘Red’. He was born in Italy in 1901. At age 8 he boarded a boat in Palermo and sailed to Ellis Island, on the way to his final destination of Albany, NY. In Albany he met my grandmother and they had 2 daughters (the youngest would one day become my mom.) He and my grandmother lived next door to his brother and sister-in-law. And in the yard between their two houses, Concord grapes were planted.

The family mythology is that these grapes are from a parent plant that was smuggled traveled over on that boat from Italy. Except, Concord grapes are native to Northeast America. But allegedly the variety was introduced to Italy before Gramps emigrated, so I suppose it is possible. I’m certainly not going to be the one who calls shenanigans on a great story. Regardless of where the plants originated, the arbor inspired memories of home. And over the years family members used its bounty to make jelly, juice, and (probably questionable) wine.

grape arbor

This year I decided to get in on the action. Concord grapes typically ripen near the end of September, so I stopped at the house (now owned by my Aunt) a couple of days ago. Unfortunately I arrived about a week too late. The smell of fermentation was heavy in the air and it was pretty slick and squishy as I walked along, searching in vain for decent bunches. I gamely filled up my spaghetti pot anyway, determined to make at least one jar of jam. When I got home I patiently washed and sorted the overripe bunches, picking off any good grapes, salvaging as much as I could. I ended up with a bit over 2 lbs of usable fruit.

So, what did I make? A recipe from the 1953 book Old Time Pickling and Spicing Recipes for Spiced Concord Grape Butter. The ever-encouraging Stephen came over to help me through my first time making something that needed to set/gel. Our friend Alex also joined in to lend an arm (stir! stir!) and learn more about canning. From my tiny harvest we managed to fill 5 jelly jars and a wee sidecar.

Oooooh, it was tasty. Deep purple grapey goodness, with a hint of tang and spice to add depth. We tried it plain. Then we tried it on bread with peanut butter. Stephen talked about filling cakes and Alex suggested it would be good as a cheesecake topping. Funky cheese was mentioned, so we pulled out crackers and the Dorset from the Cheese Tour and spread the last leftover drops over that. The only thing I’d change would be to pick the dang grapes on time so I could have 5 times as much haul. Lesson learned: next year I’ll start checking earlier.

Gramps passed away long ago, but I’m grateful we still have this family legacy.  His birthday would have been one week from today. I’ll enjoy some delicious grape butter in his memory.

spiced grape butter

Spiced Concord grape butter = happy tastebuds

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Spiced Concord Grape Butter
from
Old Time Pickling and Spicing Recipes by Florence Brobeck 

3 lbs grapes
1/2 c cider vinegar
3 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt

Press grapes out of skin and save skins and pulp. Cook pulp, covered in agate or enamel kettle [note: I used a non-reactive pot] until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently with enamel or wooden spoon. Rub cooked pulp through sieve to remove seeds. Heat vinegar, sugar, spices, and salt together in kettle, add skins and sieved pulp. Cook over low heat, boiling gently for about 20 minutes, and stirring constantly though slowly. When juice thickens to jamlike consistency, pour into hot sterile glass jars, seal at once. [note: I processed for 10 minutes]

Makes 2 pints.

Things to do with rhubarb: take one.

13 Sep

Remember the surprise rhubarb? Here’s what I did with the first bunch I picked.

Soon after discovering my tart friend I twisted off some of the outer stalks for experimentation.

stalks of freshly picked rhubarb

I guess I need a bigger container.

Our kitchen wasn’t even completely unpacked at this point, so I kept my first foray very simple: rhubarb syrup.

Step one: Chop ‘em up and put them on to boil with water and sugar for about 15 minutes. If I recall correctly I used equal parts water and sugar, but I don’t remember how much in total, and I didn’t measure how much rhubarb I had. I guess it turned out to be a very unscientific experiment, my high school chemistry teacher would not be impressed by my (lack of) quantitative rigor.

Rhubarb boiling in equal parts sugar and water.

Rhubarb boiling in (approximately) equal parts sugar and water.

Step two: Cool slightly and strain. I used a strainer basket lined with cheesecloth and then squeezed out every last bit of liquid. The squeezing part is why you need to let your syrup cool. If you’re not planning on manhandling a heated sack of vegetable pulp, you can strain right away.

Stewed rhubarb strained and squeezed through cheesecloth.

Freshly squeezed.

Step three: Pour into clean containers.

bottles of rhubarb syrup cooling on a window sill

Cooling off on the window sill.

This should be kept refrigerated. I’m not sure how long it will keep; I finished using it quickly. I used rhubarb syrup to top off ginger ale and plain seltzer for refreshers. I mixed it into various vodka, gin and rum concoctions. I even added some to prosecco for a rosy toast. There may be food applications for rhubarb syrup, but I never got that far… drinkin’ use only.

First harvest of the season.

1 Sep

My garden is coming in late this year, but I expected it. I waited too long to set up plants because of the move, so here I am in the last days of summer and I’m JUST starting to be able to pick things. Hopefully the loads of green veg still on the plants will have a chance to ripen before the weather turns too cold.

However, a pleasant surprise: I had sent my dad some seed packets from the Hudson Valley Seed Library and he gave me some of his extra seedlings. I thought all of the tomato plants were green zebras. Some of the tomatoes started coming in kind of small and droopy-looking. Maybe the containers were too small, I thought, or perhaps the soil didn’t have enough nutrients? Either way I assumed it was a result of my shoddy gardening. Then one of the droopy little guys turned bright yellow overnight! It turns out 4 of the 7 tomato plants are actually yellow pear cherry! I’m excited by the unexpected diversity.

handful of heirloom tomatoes

First harvest of the season! Green zebra, yellow pear cherry and black cherry tomatoes.