Wednesday, October 2, 2013

FYI - merged my old Russia work blog into this one

For those of you who get notification of a new post, my apologies - you probably got a whole bunch of notices yesterday. I merged the content from my Russia blog into this one. No reason for me to write there any more - not working or traveling in Russia - but I didn't want to see it just wither and die. There are good posts in there.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wild Concord Grapes

Wild Concord Grapes
In the spring, this year, the grape vines were optimistic. They had thousands of flowers and flower stalks. And, because I could see them, I was optimistic, too! I've been waiting for them to ripen all summer.

At first, I was a little disappointed. While the flower stalks had been very visible, I could
see very few grapes developing. As the summer went on, though, I found a couple of spots with a few green globes hiding under the leafy grapevine cover. I knew there would be more, as they like to hide. I kept an eye on those places, watching for when they would ripen.

Which is why I was surprised one day to smell the distinct heady sweetness of Concord grapes while passing another section of road with vines. The ones I had been watching were still green!

A few days later I had time to check the grapevines where I could smell them. I was rewarded with the sight of lots of ripe, purple-black grapes! Many were even too ripe, and some were drying and shriveling. This batch was perfect - days in the past! I guess this spot gets more sunlight than where I was watching them.

I got some time one morning to do some picking. Within a yard or so of where I first looked, I found a gallon or so of grape worth picking. Now, last year, I had to glean the whole area, all along the 2 mile stretch where I take the dogs running, just to get a few quarts of grapes. This year, I've already gotten almost as many, and I haven't moved more than a yard from where I first stood! And they are in bunches! The past couple of years, it was unusual to find a bunch with more than 3-4 grapes.

Taking them home, I wash and throw away perhaps a half-quart of trash. Another 2 quarts are 2nd quality grapes - good for cooking, but not that great for eating. I still have almost 2 quarts of prime table grapes.

There are still more, many more, and it is a challenge. On Saturday, I go out about 6:30 in the morning to pick. The dogs are happy to come with. No fox sightings, by the way.

Two years ago, this section along the road was mostly sumac. Four or five years ago, it was mostly open. The sumac came up, and it was beautiful. About two years ago, I started noticing the grapevine coming in as well. Last year, it was a nice balanced section of sumac and grapevine. The sumac created a perfect natural arbor for the grapevine. This year, the grapevine has overcome the sumac. I can still see some few red spires where the sumac berries poke through, but it is mostly grapevine.

The first section I picked, I did not penetrate into the thicket. This day, I do. Inside this leafy grapevine canopy is a green cavern. It is difficult to get around, due to the spiderwebs of grape tendrils, but a snip of the secateurs here, and another snip there, and I can manuever through. I spend 2-3 hours picking, and I get gallons of grapes. Perhaps 4 or so, probably about 6 pounds worth. And most of these are first quality grapes!

And all this is within 10 yards of where I started. I head on down to the other end of the dog run route, where I had been keeping an eye on some grapes. One section there is ripe. It is unusual, in that it is a red Concord grape. Mostly Concords are a deep purple black. These are quite red, instead, with a nice tartness to the Concord flavor. I get another couple of gallons there.

I have not even gone to a few of the other spots where I found grapes last year. But I've already created so much work for myself, I must be content! There are way too many to eat, so I will have to make grape jam! This creates more work for me when I should be focused on other things - but I will be happy when I have little jars of homemade grape jam to give for Christmas presents! 

Let's hope the jam gells! I cooked some up yesterday - just to test-cook the grapes. Good flavor, with some tart dryness to the flavor. With a little sugar, it should be very good! I ran the "candy test" on a frozen plate for pectin content, though, and it didn't gell. So I will add pectin, and hope I can get it to be more than juice. Keep your fingers crossed, and wish me luck!