Grapes... "De-vine" fruit!
Sept./Oct. 2009 California Country magazine
Story by Andy Powning
Winegrapes, table grapes and raisins—enjoy different varieties and products of this popular fruit.
California grows about 90 percent of the table grapes, raisin grapes and winegrapes consumed annually in our nation. Wow!
Grapes have been cultivated for fruit and wine since antiquity. Of more than 8,000 grape varieties, only about 50 are grown in significant numbers and most of these are winegrapes. There are two species. Vitus vinifera, which are European varieties, are tight-skinned, including red, black and green seedless such as black Autumn Royal, green Perlette and Thompson, red Crimson, Ruby and Flame, and the delicious golden Italia Muscat. The second species, V. labrusca, are American slip-skin types, including Concord/Niabell and Peony. While these more unusual varieties do have seeds, they are flavor-packed and well worth a search.
California covers our nation's table grape demand pretty much from April through November. Sure, gobbling up bunches of our wonderful seedless grapes is a great fit for kids and adults alike, but consider enriching your grape experience by hunting down some sweet-tart Concord/Niabell grapes and having a family jam session. Come winter, jars of homemade jam make breakfast special, and they're a great gift item, too.
Beyond eating out of hand or serving on a cheese/antipasto platter, scatter halved grapes into your seasonal salads for an elegant and delectable edge. Hosting a party? Show your kids how to stuff partially halved grapes with a chopped nut and cream cheese mixture for a real hands-on project—fun to make, serve and eat! Freeze some grapes for simple, unusual snacks or use them as "ice cubes" for your next gathering, served with sparkling water, a touch of grape juice and a slice of lime.
And don't forget dried grapes—also known as raisins! They pack a nutritional punch, don't need to be refrigerated and are an instant source of energy. If you're not familiar with them, seek out some "dried currants," which actually are not currants but dried Champagne, or Corinth, variety grapes, also known as Zante currants. Try your luck baking some scones with these.
It’s always harvest time in California! Here are three more fall favorites.
Apples: California apples are now in force—some sweet, some tart, all crispy-crunchy and ready for lunch bags and bobbing! One excellent heirloom worth purchase is the Gravenstein, grown almost exclusively in Sonoma County. Read all about this near-extinct fruit and try the pie recipe made famous by Sonoma County’s favorite “Mom.”
Pomegranates: Shiny, russeted garnet skin covers tightly packed, multiple seeds called arils, which are surrounded by richly flavored, juicy red pulp. Simply quarter the fruit and then have your kids entertain themselves by submerging in water and working the seeds loose. They will enjoy this zesty, healthful fruit. Eat out of hand, sprinkle on salads or just juice them.
Pears: It is written, and true, that there are 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfectly ripe. Pears are unusual in that they ripen off—not on—the tree. Keep unripe pears at room temperature until they reach desired ripeness. Try a cheese course with ripe pears in place of dessert. And remember, a pear crumble pie always hits the spot! Pears have a rich history in California. Let us introduce you to a few families who grow them.
Andy Powning is a produce specialist with GreenLeaf, a San Francisco-based produce company. Send questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.