When I was about six years old the local grocery store, Alexander's, had a Brookdale ice cream counter where sometimes after shopping my mom would buy me an ice cream cone. My favorite was this lovely lavender grape sherbet. At some point still in my young childhood Alexander's became Ralph's and the Brookdale ice cream counter was no more. Through out my childhood my taste for all things grape continued, grape Charms, hommade grape juice popsicles, Goofy Grape Funny Face Drinks and Welch's grape jelly. At some point in time I lost interest the grape flavor. I distinctly recall wondering where the idea of the "lavender grape flavor" came from as I had never tasted a grape that tasted anything the beloved lavender grape flavor of childhood; not a green grape, red grape or even those dark almost purple Ribier grapes with seeds that my parents liked.
Fast forward in time. It is 2007 and I have just finished culinary school. A friend from culinary school and I take a trip New York City in September. We are exploring as many restaurants as we can in our 7 day stay. I notice that almost every restaurant we walk into is featuring a seasonal grape dish, some sweet, others savory. I was not attracted by this concept as I had now come to believe that grape flavor was purely synthetic. Eventually I broke down and tried a grape sorbet that the waiter assured me was made from fresh grapes. I was shocked - there was the lovely lavender grape flavor I remembered from childhood. Obviously it came from the Concord Grape which do not grow in southern California. I had never seen or tasted a Concord grape. Later that week I bought Concord grapes at the Union Square Green Market. Mystery solved!
Fast forward in time again. It is 2016 and I now live in Park City Utah. I am at a fall farmer market and I see Concord Grapes at an organic farm stand. I cannot help myself! I buy 7 pounds to take home and play with in the kitchen. Cooking with these grapes is definitely a labor of love. They must be individually plucked from the stem and peeled. Peeling is pretty easy, just pinch the skin and it slips right off but it is one grape at a time. I made 6 jars of grape jam and a grape pie. For both the jam and the pie, the peeled grapes are simmered until they began to loose their shape. Then they are put into a sieve where the juice and pulp are pushed through into a bowl to recombine with finely chopped grape skins, leaving the seeds behind. I cooked the grapes with added sugar and lemon juice until it jelled to make the jam. I have decided I generally prefer pure fruit flavor for jam. It makes the jam a more useful ingredient. If later I want an additional herb or spice I will add it to the amount of jam I am using is particular dish. As the jam gets funneled into jars, you can see it is jam not jelly containing the texture of the grape skins and pulp.
The jam on toast with almond butter was marvelous. A Sunday morning breakfast treat that throughly delighted my grape loving inner child!
I researched concord grape pie recipes since I had never actually seen a grape pie. I was concerned about making a pie that would be too sweet as ripe concord grapes are very sweet. I was inspired by a recipe in The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily and Melissa Elsen. Angostura bittera and allspice are used to flavor the pie. The Bitters Lab, a small-batch premium cocktail bitters company in Salt Lake City makes a Charred Cedar and Currant Bitters. I thought this would be a great flavoring plus an opportunity to support a local business. I replaced the allspice with a bit of cinnamon simply because am not a big fan of allspice but wanted to add a warm spice. I used my all butter crust recipe but decide to try out the abstract triangles top crust suggested in the recipe.
A slice of grape pie with a dap of yogurt is great combinations
So ended my grape explorations for this year. The weather is cold so I was not tempted to try to recreate my favorite grape sherbet. Next year I will freeze some grapes or at least grape syrup for an icy summer time treat!