Ah yes, two days to October. So, for some weeks it’s been that season when, all across the Northern hemisphere, horny handed peasants have been taking to their fields with their grape-scissors, gathering the harvest from their weighed-down vines and casting the ripe, sweet-smelling bunches into ancient wicker baskets, to be emptied into vast wooden baths and there trodden into fermenting pulp by cackling village crones and delirious olive-coloured bambini; or piled on terracotta platters for the menfolk to pop at lunchtime, one by one, into their juice-stained mouths beside chunks of last year’s Compte or Taleggio and great swigs of a previous treasured vintage … Well, something like that.
I too have this problem, on a smaller scale. Five years ago I accidentally planted a vine, just down near the apple tree, and gave it a puny bit of trellis to climb. ‘Mmm, I like it here’ thought the vine. ‘More trellis, if you please’. Last year, the area of trellis was doubled – but was the creature satisfied? This summer, it’s been aiming for the apple tree. Next year I’ll have to take detours to reach the car.
But that’s nothing. The grapes are the real trouble. They don’t come in huge quantities; it’s the quality. They’re red (that’s fine) but very small. Most of the content is a large pip; and most of the rest is skin, which is tough enough to weave into a handbag or clothe a GaGa. Annoyingly, if you chew one and spit out the resulting waste products, it’s delicious. (A grape that is, not a handbag or ...)
So, what to do with my crop? Last year I ended up just leaving it there for the pigeons to eat and get drunk on (though I don’t know how you can tell if a pigeon’s drunk – they seem to fall off things regardless). But this time I plan to do better. Here, in brief, is a list of some options I have considered:
Wine. The obvious first choice, recommended by innumerable well-wishers. So I dug my ancient home wine-making manual out of the bottom of the recipe book wardrobe. Sure enough, there are instructions for something called ‘Grape Wine’. (Latour, Ramon Bilbao and co., please do get in touch.) Four pounds of grapes, it said; I can probably muster that much. I have some old demijohns down in the garage, I think. So I read on. The first instruction was ‘Place the grapes in a bowl, add the boiling water and leave for a month, stirring daily.’ So that did it for wine.
Culinary use. There are remarkably few recipes that use grapes. Constance Spry has one which involves halving each grape and stuffing them with cream cheese, to be served on cocktail sticks. Very funny, Constance. Many years ago, faced with an over-purchased glut, I wrote down a recipe for ‘grape puree’, which read: ‘Get some grapes. Puree them. Leave in fridge for three weeks. Throw away.’
Give them away. I’ve tried this. It doesn’t work.
However, I may have hit on the answer. Grape vodka. To be concocted along the lines of sloe gin, which I’ve made many times. It can’t fail, can it? Going to have a go, anyway. It’ll take a few months, so if you don’t hear from me after about February, you’ll know it’s been really successful.
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