Monday, 14 September 2009

pausing with a grape or two

Things have been totally backwards recently. I've been getting up before the sun, riding tractors, eating lunches out of a sac, and nursing a farmer's tan. And I haven't given this humble little blog a glance in weeks...

Harvest in the vineyards may bring sleep deprivation and adventures with the Spanish language, but it also brings one obvious thing: fruit. And the fruit brings me back here, looking for recipes, flavors, and combinations to throw around.

The sorting process in the vineyards leaves many sad bunches of grapes behind. Little lost soldiers as the workers tear through the vines with their shears snipping each cluster into the plastic bins. So later in the day, with the sun bearing down on the fallen fruit and turning it fast into raisins, I've been returning to the field with an empty bucket.

Pounds of grapes have passed through the kitchen, manicured to rid them of green or rainsinated berries. A good crush with a potato masher, some sugar and some heat, and those lofty grapes, usually aged for a year or two or twelve into cellar-worthy bottles of pinot noir, become something much simpler. A juice, a syrup, a jelly.

It's the world of canning, and I've been diving in. I'll tell you about my other adventures later (involving lavender and wild fennel pollen, among other delights), but this week was all about the grape.

The juice was, well, juice. Sweet and puckery, with something that reminded us of watermelon and strawberries. The syrup swirled wonderfully with some bubbly water. Made by boiling up the stems along with the fruit, a little spoonful of the sweet, deep purple stuff revealed a flavor much more powerful and complex than your average grape.

And finally, the jelly.

I'd never made jelly before. I'd tried my hand at jam, and it seems that dumb luck in that situation delivered me a delcious and well-jelled product. These grapes, lacking a significant amount of pectin, were a different species.

A neighbor delivered the answer in the form of a huge box of tart, firm apples from her tree. Natural pectin had arrived.

Using this recipe, I whipped up three pots of sticky, sputtering syrup, crossing my fingers it would come together.

The swirl of rosemary before canning was a beautiful addition, one that inspired me to set a little of the hot liquid aside and add some fresh lemon verbena leaves for a different sort of infusion.

Once cooled, the grape and rosemary flavors nestled into one another, melding just enough for a little question mark to go off in your head when it hits the tongue. And although plenty sweet, the rosemary begs for something savory. Spread on salty foccaccia would be lovely (fritos work in a pinch), and we have also been thinking about making a glaze for a roasted meat, perhaps lamb.

The thing about these cans though - I can only open one at a time. For my eat-it-all-at-once nature, this is a lesson in patience as we dig deeper into the first jar and I force myself to wait to taste the grape with lemon verbena.

There is something about this wait, something about the preservation itself, that seems to slow things down. Days disappear, and then you are stirring hot syrup over the stove and the moment takes a pause. Time isn't filled by the normal chaos. Somehow it passes more gently.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your blog. You have such a beautiful way of expressing yourself. Unfortunately I could not access the recipe but then grapes are scarce here so I'll enjoy your jellymaking vicariously. What we do have around here are peaches. Lots and lots of peaches. So now we have lots and lots of peach butter to savor through the winter.