Sunday, September 09, 2007
Behold, the magnificent grape
Ding! The Niagara grapes (Vitis labrusca) are ready. Time to harvest and process them.
Step one: Send child off for a day with her Nana. (This step is not really necessary; the circus, fortuitously, was in town. Believe me, the child will have other grape opportunities yet this year.)
Step two: Grab pruners and the wheelbarrow. Yes, the poop hauler/coop cleaner/dirt slinging wheelbarrow: I am of the school that, with a little effort, anything can be clean again. It's the only form of redemption I truly believe in. Now go out and hit the vineyard!
Step three: Shocking, but true: the first two vines made a wheelbarrowload! Egads. This here is about 60 pounds. Sixty pounds will yield about 5 gallons of juice. Considering I am working solo today, it's time to process the first barrow. (Notice Penny, ever wanting you to please, please throw her frisbee for her.)
So, over the next three hours, I hose off, then de-branch, this load of grapes in ten- to fifteen-pound increments. I take them inside, run them through the food mill, then squeeze the resulting juice through two cheesecloth-lined flour sack towels (one at a time). The juice goes in the fridge until I get a big batch. Then, I put the juice into freezer bags and pin the bags closed with clothespins to do a first freeze in the basement freezer. I will haul them out tomorrow and seal them for the final time.
A bit of background on the vines here: our farm is called Old Vines. It's an old fruit farm, one of thousands in this area; ours hasn't been a working farm for probably 30 years. The grapes, though, still produce; they're 80-90 years old. We have been organic since we started with them. Our method the first year was nothing, just to see what cooties came and ate them. Well, Japanese beetles were our pest of note. So that fall Tom started applying milky spore to the ground by the grapes. Last year was a no-harvest summer, as a very late frost wiped out the imminent fruits. This year? Bonanza. It was a near-drought year then tons of rain in August, so, um, we're overwhelmed. Tom sprayed kaolin clay on the leaves and fruit twice during the Japanese beetle push (late June through July). Kaolin colloidal clay is just that: clay, the kind you'd use in facial masks, interestingly. Well, it sure made for some pretty and mostly critter-free grapes, I will say. The leaf canopy was undamaged by the bugs, so the fruit production was enhanced.
You're just making juice, you ask? Yes, partially. Niagara grapes are the #1 grape used in this country for white grape juice. We'll thaw the bags in the winter and dilute the contents slightly for a morning beverage. Anyway, this is the simplest way that I process these growing things. I mentioned that for the September Eat Local Challenge, which emphasizes food preservation, I would start simple and move my way up to more "complicated" preservation methods. Dang, though, I am beat, as I did another wheelbarrow load after this one! Another 60 pounds, another five or so gallons. And this, quite frankly, is JUST THE WHITE GRAPES! Only 4 vines out of 44!!!!
(Yes, I will be getting help with the next batches...)