by Emily Cates
My eyes dart back and forth between another tub of apples waiting to be made into sauce and a shimmering colander of freshly-picked grapes. “What shall I do?” I wonder as I try hard to figure out what to do with my precious few moments of spare time. As I picture in my mind the other day when my neighbors and I got together for a grape-stomping party and how much fun it was for the kids to stomp around on the grapes to make juice, the grapes won out and the rest of my day’s activities were set.
Making grape juice is refreshingly simple and an exciting departure from the occasional drudgery that can accompany preserving jar after jar of produce in the autumn-time kitchen. From there, the juice can be enjoyed right away, left a couple days to develop effervescence, or aged further into wine or vinegar. (I’ll leave it to you to determine how you wish to proceed.) For now, though, let’s look at the joyous occasion of extracting the juice the way it has been done for ages. From the vine to the press, we’ll see how to handle grapes in a way that will produce some of the yummiest juice in all the land.
The first thing we could do, if we’re up for it, is to invite friends for a stomping party. If pressed for time, we could have the grapes already harvested; if there is time, let’s invite friends to help us harvest and hand them an extra pair of pruners. It can be a lot of fun that way, especially for kids who can see where the scrumptious juice comes from and who have a part in its production. (Of course, juice-making can be a relaxing solo endeavor as well, though I really enjoy watching the expressions people make when they smoosh grapes between their toes!)
How the fruits are harvested makes a huge contribution to the quality of the juice. I personally use whatever variety is ripe, sometimes blending different varieties to taste. Since I never bother to spray my grapes with pesticides or anything, I occasionally do find “organic” things on them we would not want to eat.
Spiders, especially, seem to enjoy spinning webs on or near grapes. Yellow jackets and ants will clue me in on to deliciously ripe fruits by their presence. And where individual grapes grow touching each other, there is a greater chance of something taking up residence in this area. With all this in mind, while harvesting, before the clusters are placed into the basket, make sure to carefully inspect each individual grape and toss any that are substandard.
Unripe, overripe, diseased and insect-ridden fruits should be discarded – preferably into a container, and tossed away from the vines for the chickens or compost pile. If the grapes are thoroughly picked over and rinsed clean, they should be in beautiful shape when ready to press.
At pressing time, place cleaned grapes into a sturdy colander set into a stock pot or something similar that is not iron, aluminum, or Teflon-coated cookware – always keeping in mind this could make a mess! Whoever stomps on the grapes must have impeccably clean feet. (While we’re at it, let’s sing/dance/ make up songs about juice-pressing!) The juice is then strained through a sieve and poured into clean glass containers of choice. Make sure everyone has a taste! Ahhh….delectable! Now you have participated in an activity that has delighted mankind from the ages of long ago.