I found a nice surprise at the farmers market last week: fragrant, locally grown Concord grapes. I remembered from a visit to our local farm museum that the local grapes were at their peak this time of year. Part of their harvest festival involved picking the grapes — to eat and to make a variety of products from them like jams and jellies, grape punch, and grape lemonade.
Early fall was also the time of year when Grampa John used to make wine in our basement in Brooklyn. My aunts told me how he arranged for crates and crates of dark grapes to be delivered. He juiced them in the big wooden press that he had downstairs and turned them into delicious red wine.
My mother-in-law made her own version of sparkly soda using grapes. (She also made a version with pomegranate seeds.) She would put the grapes in a bottle (like a soda bottle) with a little sugar and water. After she shook the mixture, she’d cap the bottle and leave it for a few days, “burping” the container twice a day by briefly opening the cap. In less than a week, she had a sweet, slightly fermented drink to enjoy.
Aside from eating the little sweet grapes on the vine, I love to make the grape lemonade that I learned about at the museum. It’s a simple recipe: a little grape juice for color, a squeeze or two of lemon, and sugar to taste. Another version includes a few sprigs of rosemary for a hint of herbal flavor. The drink is pale lavender rather than the bright purple we usually associate with Concord grapes.
I really enjoy experimenting with these local grapes to make refreshing drinks like punch, grape soda, and fresh grape juice. And I feel good about buying local, in-season produce – good for the local economy and the environment!