What's In Season: Grapes

What's In Season: Grapes

Nature has a way of giving us rewards year-round. In the fall, one of the best is grapes.

Buying Grapes

Global farming means we can have grapes 12 months a year but in our hemisphere they're in season in autumn. My favorites are the ruby red seedless Red Flames. I love to give them a rinse and then refrigerate so that each grape becomes a crisp, cold and refreshing burst of sweetness. I tell myself I can't eat too many because red grapes have that same ingredient found in red wine that the French Paradox says is so good for us.

Grapes have thousands of varieties, some of which are grown and sold only regionally. The ones we buy most often are green (they're actually white grapes), red, or navy blue -- almost black in color. Sometimes our autumn markets will also have the reddish-brown Champagne grapes, which are tiny and sweet. In Italy the most commonly found grapes are either a rosy red or a yellow-green and they always have seeds, which for me rather interferes with the pleasure of the eating. But if I'm cooking with grapes the seeds won't matter since odds are I'll be putting them through a sieve to catch the seeds and remove the skins.

I'm not advocating thievery, but when buying grapes, if you're uncertain as to their sweetness, you might want to taste one. Not lots. Just one. Enough to confirm that the grapes taste as good as they look. I do this particularly with green grapes, which I find can be gorgeous but sometimes unexpectedly sour. Or tasteless.

Two grapes that always have great flavor are Concord grapes (dark blue-black and with a flavor that will recall your most favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich) and the Muscat, from which sweet Moscato and other dessert wines are made.

I also touch the grapes for firmness because if the grapes are soft, they may be past their prime. Another sign is if the grapes easily fall off their stems. Instead look for ones that are still firmly attached, need a gentle tug to remove, and seem heavy for their size. And of course, make sure there are no bruises or splits in the skins.

If you see a white-ish bloom on the grapes, not to worry. This is a natural protection for the fragile skins. The bloom will easily wash off when you rinse the grapes before eating or cooking them.

Cooking With Grapes

We don't automatically think of cooking grapes and instead more often eat them raw. For example, some of the most common ways to serve grapes are:

But sweet grapes -- especially red and Concord grapes -- can also be cooked with success. You'll usually need a sieve or food mill to remove skins and seeds, but for the right recipe, grapes are a rewarding ingredient:

And as you enjoy it, perhaps a little Dave Frishberg:

"Pop me a cork, french me a fry
    Crack me a nut, bring a bowl fulla bon-bons
    Chill me some wine, keep standing by
    Just entertain me, champagne me
    Show me you love me, kid glove me
    Best way to cheer me, cashmere me
    I'm getting hungry, peel me a grape."




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