The art of vine dining

While New York state is third in grape production nationwide, harvesting 176,000 tons last year, gra

This is the time of year when markets are filled with sweet, juicy, succulent grapes in several varieties at great prices.

Grapes have been around since prehistoric times, as evidenced by imprints of grape leaves found in limestone formations in France, and they have been grown commercially since 1000 B.C. Spanish explorers brought them to the Americas about 300 years ago.

But North American settlers had trouble growing the grapes from Europe. Then, in 1854, Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape, named after Concord, Mass., where visitors can still see the original grapevine growing at a monument there. New York is home to the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt in the western part of the state, the largest Concord grape-growing region in the world.

Today, there are more than 50 varieties of grapes in a rainbow of colors, including black, blue, golden, red, green, purple and white. Grapes offer a sweet treat with only 58 calories per cup. In addition, they contain vitamin C, fiber and protein.

While New York state is third in grape production nationwide, harvesting 176,000 tons last year (up 43,000 tons from the previous year), grapes are not easy to grow in the Capital Region.

Trying again

Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook had a seedless grape vineyard planted many years ago. Unfortunately, after one very cold winter, many of the vines did not survive. But customers kept asking about grapes and the Samascott family, initially hesitant to replant because of the unforgiving climate, decided to give it another try.

“The most care goes into finding varieties that will hopefully survive our weather conditions,” said Jake Samascott, one of the owners. Scientists have been working on creating hardier varieties of grapes that can survive this region’s winters.

The Samascotts have planted a small vineyard of Himrod, Reliance, Canadice, Seedless Concord and Suffolk red grapes. The Canadice is a relatively new pink variety developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University in Geneva, near Seneca Lake. The white seedless table grape Himrod also came out of Geneva, as did the Suffolk red. Reliance came from the University of Arkansas.

“Our previous seedless vineyard was alive and well for many years, and with the varieties we planted this time it will hopefully last even longer,” said Samascott, who expects to harvest the new grapes next year.

JoAnne Cloughly, associate professor of culinary arts, hospitality and tourism at SUNY Cobleskill, worked on a grape harvest in California a few years ago and observed some of the techniques used there. Farmers paint the bases of the vines with white paint to discourage pests, she said. “They also are harvested at the peak of sweetness, which often meant in the middle of the night with floodlights.”

Making a choice

When buying grapes, consumers should look for firm, plump ones with a smooth skin and good color. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week and wash them just before using them.

When you’re cooking with grapes or using them in other dishes, such as salads, it’s not variety (other than seedless) so much as color. “Go buy whatever happens to be coming in at the markets,” Cloughly said. “It’s more of a color preference — what you want it to look like in the cooking.” For example, a dark grape like red or purple would look good contrasted with the light greens of a salad.

Cloughly likes using grapes in hot dishes as well, especially chicken. “I think the acid [in the grapes] tenderizes the chicken,” she said. “The sweetness adds a zing.”

Grapes are a natural for salads and cheese platters. “A Waldorf salad — the traditional apple salad — with grapes in it is wonderful,” Cloughly said. For a twist, she suggests roasting the grapes whole on their stems (wash and place on a sheet tray in a 250-degree oven for two hours) for a cheese platter, or pulling them off their stems and roasting them before tossing them into a salad after they’ve cooled.

Cloughly provided the following recipes:

Grape Salsa

2 cups red and green seedless grapes, coarsely chopped

2 cups tomatoes, coarsely chopped

1⁄4 cup red onion, chopped

1⁄2 cup cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cover and chill for one hour. This is great with fish, chicken or pork.

Pan Seared Pork Tenderloin with Honey Grape Sauce

2 slices of pork tenderloin, about 1⁄2-inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

1⁄3 cup shallots, minced

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1⁄2 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated

2 cups red and green seedless grapes

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. Season pork medallions with salt and pepper. Add to pan. Cook, turning once, until light brown and cooked completely (about 3 minutes per side).

Remove from pan and set aside, keep warm.

In another sauté pan, heat remaining oil. Add shallots and garlic and sauté until soft. Add ginger, grapes, soy sauce and honey. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and purée.

Place pork medallions on serving platter and drizzle with sauce. Serves 4.

Herb Roasted Chicken with Grapes and Garlic

1 whole roasting chicken, about 3 pounds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1⁄4 cup parsley, chopped

11⁄2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped (or substitute 1⁄4 teaspoon dry)

1⁄2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped (or substitute 1⁄4 teaspoon dry)

10 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup chicken broth

2 cups seedless green grapes

Salt and ground white pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Mix herbs, garlic and grapes together in a mixing bowl. Stuff into chicken and place in roasting pan. Rub chicken lightly with olive oil and season skin with salt and pepper as desired.

Place in roasting pan and pour chicken broth around base of chicken. Place chicken in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350. Roast until done (165 internal temperature, taken in thickest part of thigh meat). Serve sliced, with pan juices. Serves 4 to 6.

Tropical Chicken and Walnut Salad

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons mango chutney

1⁄2 teaspoon orange zest

3 cups cooked chicken, diced

1⁄4 teaspoon curry powder

1 cup red and green seedless grapes, halved

1⁄4 cup walnuts, chopped (toasting these ahead of time adds a great depth of flavor)

1⁄4 cup chopped red onion

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together mayonnaise, chutney and zest. Set aside. Toss chicken with curry powder, grapes, walnuts and onion. Mix with mayonnaise dressing and season as desired. Use as a sandwich filling or as a salad on a bed of lettuce. Serves 6.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply