Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Grow your own grapes? What should you do with them?

What can you do with home grown grapes?
I have 50 bunches.






My grandparents had a grape vine

I used to love exploring their garden, and this included wandering into the enveloping warmth of their greenhouse. It was an old fashioned brick-walled building, glazed from a few feet above the ground to the top of the pointed roof. The paint was peeling off the old timber window frames, but it was built to last and withstood the limited ferocity of the Kentish climate.
I don't remember whether the vine was trained through a gap in the wall, but I remember the feeling of stepping inside, being struck by the warmth, humidity and musty smell, looking up at the meandering foliage and getting excited by the dark plump fruits hanging in long trailing bunches high above me.
My grandparents would pick them when they were ripe enough and bring them inside, where we would carefully slice them in half with the blade of a knife, and then prick out the pips from the middle with the tip.  We would end up with a bowl full of half grapes, all with a small divot in the middle where the seeds had been, surrounded by translucent jelly-like flesh and all held in place by the firm skin.
Harvest of Grow Your Own Grapes Green Fingered Blog
Grapes - fresh from the pergola

Something special

I'm fairly sure you could buy fresh grapes from the shops in early 1980s Britain, but to me at the time they were an exotic treat. I didn't know anyone else who had their own grape vine. But however commonplace they may be in our glasshouse and air freight modern times, picking each grape to eat one by one from a bunch remains an experience with a sense of decadence. And even more satisfying if they're from your own garden. 
35 years on from my grandparents greenhouse, I have my own grapevine. It's planted in the border and is trained over a pergola. It is not protected by a greenhouse but it has grown very well. This year it produced more than sixty bunches of grapes, which I thinned to no more than one per spur. I also removed as many of the smaller fruits from each remaining bunch as I could, so that the larger ones left could grow as big as possible by the time they were picked.
Time can cloud the memory, but I sense that the grapes I've started picking this week are much smaller than those from my childhood. Any attempt to halve them and remove the pips would leave very little edible grape afterwards. They are edible and have ripened sufficiently to be sweet enough to enjoy as dessert grapes. But I was curious to know what else I might be able to do with them.

How about a glass of wine?

That would be good. My mother used to make wine from elderberries; demi-johns bubbling away slowly on top of the boiler in the kitchen. It would be interesting to see if my grapes could be turned into wine. It's possible I suppose, there are vineyards in Wales you know. In fact less than a hundred yards away from my pergola, on what is now a golf course, the Marquis of Bute, then the richest man on the planet, planted a vineyard on the south facing slope below Castell Coch, in 1875. It apparently went well for a few years and produced some drinkable results, reportedly making it the first ever commercial vineyard in Britain. This was seemingly battling the local climate though. Additional sugar was always needed to achieve the necessary fermentation, and shortages brought about by the first world war put an end to the venture. So what chance me producing something drinkable from my vine?
I picked 14 bunches. They weighed in at 460g, or just over a pound if you are an imperialist. I picked them all and put them in a sieve, mashed them up over a glass bowl and ended up with about 1/4 litre of juice.

Mashing home grown grapes for juice Green Fingered Blog
Grapes + Masher = Juice!
Juice from Home Grown Grapes Green Fingered Blog
Although this tasted pretty good, my single vine will yield at most another 40 bunches, and produce maybe a whole litre in total. Little more than a single bottle of wine. It would be fun to do, but not really worth the effort. Similarly the juice itself was nice but hardly worth the arduous task of cleaning the remains of the grape skins from the sieve afterwards. I was tempted to use the whole lot to make my own balsamic vinegar until I realised this takes even longer to make than wine.

If you must

Then I came across recipes for grape must syrup which intrigued me. Ancient Greek and Roman cooks often used it in place of honey and sugar to sweeten puddings, I read. This also could be interesting to try. However it involves reducing the grape must by three quarters and so again I concluded my hard work would be rewarded with a tiny outcome.
Instead, I will hope that my pruning this winter is as effective, and the weather as favourable, as this year, so that I get as many bunches again next year. If I do, I will thin them even more ruthlessly in order to get fewer but larger grapes that will be easier and more rewarding to simply eat. Whilst I can dream of making my own wine, or even syrup, surely the most satisfying way to enjoy your own home grown grapes is to simply pick them straight from the vine and eat them. So that's what I'll do. 
Do you have just one vine like me, or more? What are you doing with your grapes?

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