Grapes symbolize the good life. Commercially grown mainly in California, this late spring to early fall crop is now also available throughout the winter at good prices, thanks to imports from Chile, which has a season opposite to our own. Despite some negative press, Chilean grapes, in my experience, are high in quality and offer a welcome way to add fresh fruit to the table during the winter months.
The best-known seeded grapes are the Tokay and Concord, but other hybrid varieties are available in many markets. Although they're not as popular as the seedless varieties, seeded grapes have a much fuller flavor. They also tend to be meatier and juicier.
The Tokay is a large, round, red grape that's primarily grown in California. Available in the fall, it's a tender grape with a very good flavor. The huge Red Globe is a variety of Tokay grapes, as is the Christmas Rose, which comes out in November and December. The Christmas Rose has a slightly thicker skin and is a little firmer than the Tokay.
Ribier grapes are large, very deep blue, almost black grapes that range from about the size of a nickel to the size of a quarter. They have an excellent flavor that is just slightly tart. Ribier grapes from California start to arrive in September, with the season finishing at the end of December. Fortunately, Ribier grapes from Chile arrive to extend the season.
The Concord is another blue-black grape that's smaller and tarter than the Ribier. It's the grape our grandmothers used for jelly making - one a lot of people now associates with Welch's. The Concord remains popular in the Northeast for eating out of hand. It has a very tart skin with a sweet flesh - a combination that makes it a very tasty, refreshing grape to serve at the table. Domestic Concords are available in the fall.
Grapes are available year round, with the California grapes available from late spring through fall, followed by grapes from Chile, which begin in December and end in May.
Look for plump, smooth grapes with good color. They should be firmly attached to a fresh-looking green stem, with no evidence of wrinkling or withering. There should be a dusty bloom on the skin of the grape itself. Like the dusty bloom on blueberries, it's a naturally occurring substance that helps protect the grapes and is a good indication of freshness. Green or white grapes will have a golden glow when they're ripe; red grapes will be a soft, rich red, and black grapes will have a deep, blue-black color.
Grapes don't ripen off the vine, so what you buy is what you get. They're very delicate and need to be handled carefully. Refrigerate them dry in a plastic bag. Never wash them until you're ready to eat - moisture will make them deteriorate very quickly. Grapes will last up to a week properly stored in the refrigerator, but it's best to eat them as soon as possible.
Grapes are ideal as luncheon dessert, snack, wine and cheese complement or garnish.
In summer, toss grapes into salads. Use grapes mixed into yogurt and cereals as part of a breakfast bar.
Garnish a breakfast plate of waffles or pancakes with grapes dipped in cinnamon sugar.
Freeze grapes and serve as a dessert.
To frost grapes, beat an egg white until frothy, dip grapes in beaten egg white, then roll in granulated sugar. Place on a wire rack to dry - about 13 to 20 minutes.
To peel grapes, start at the stem end and separate the skin from the pulp using a knife or fingernail. For easy skin removal, dip grapes in boiling water for 30 seconds, then place in cold water.
For grape kabobs, skewer grapes, banana slices dipped in lemon, apple chunks and pineapple cubes. Brush with a combination of melted butter, honey, lemon or lime juice and ground nutmeg. Broil until heated.
Use grapes and grape clusters as garnishes for appetizers, salads and desserts.
Oriental Chicken and Grapes
Other recipes from Produce Pete.