Posts Tagged With: grapes

Fruits of Our Labor

Mars Table Grapes

Mars Table Grapes

 Last spring,  we had drilled one more row than we needed for the wine grapes.  So Jed decided to fill the row with table grapes.  He ordered  three varieties, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.  They are all seedless purple grapes that are supposed to ripen at different times over the summer.  As summer came the vines seemed to be thriving so I left most of the bunches on the vines knowing I could thin them out later if needed.  Come mid-summer I did eliminate about a third of the bunches wherever a vine seemed to be slowing down.

Table grapes culled

Table grapes culled

By the end of July the bunches were starting to get big and we tasted a few.  They weren’t real sweet. I needed to cull more bunches, so I decided to save a few and dry them into raisins. Drying them would concentrate the sugars and make them sweeter tasting I thought.  I went online to look at some ‘how-to’ posts on raisins and most of them said it was the easiest thing ever.  Just put them on a tray in the sun for a few hours, and voila! raisins!  I got a bunch our wicker baskets and trays, and spread the bunches out in the sun.  It was a hot, sunny day, so I went back after a few hours to see if they were starting to look like the image on the website.   Nothing.  Oh, don’t be so impatient I told myself as I grabbed a grape from one of the bunches.  Nope, not that sweet, but not sour either.  I turned all the bunches over so both sides would get sun.

Like every project in the vineyard, making raisins was going to be a bit of an adventure.

Drying Table Grapes

Drying Table Grapes

I began to worry that all the grapes might just get moldy or rot before they dried into raisins, so I tossed a dishcloth over the baskets so they wouldn’t pick up dew overnight.  In the morning I proudly removed the dew soaked towel from the baskets, and looked hopefully up to the sky.  Sunny with just a few clouds.  I took off for work and left the sun to do its work.  Twelve hours later, there were a few grapes that seemed to have changed color, but none were very shriveled looking.  What happened to “in just a few hours you’ll have raisins”?

That weekend I was out of town, and because it rained Jed pulled the raisins into the house.  While they hadn’t turned moldy, they also hadn’t turned raisiny.  Back to the web.  A more in-depth treatment on raisins warned that those of us in ‘humid or rainy climates’ might not be able to rely on the sun.  They advised putting the raisins into a 170 degree oven for 24 hours.  So I transferred all the raisins onto jelly roll pans and into the ovens they went.  That evening some of the raisins had shrunk to tiny dots that were hard as a rock while others looked comfortably plump.  I spent 15 minutes picking out the grape ‘turds’ and tossing them away.  Did I want to leave the grapes in overnight, unattended?  Nope.  I turned the oven off and went to bed.

The next morning I turned the oven back on and began to monitor the grapes every couple of hours or so.  After the first check, there were about 50 shriveled grapes.  I pulled them off the bunches and left them on the counter to cool. I turned the remaining bunches over and back into the oven for they went.  I inspected the ones on the counter. They looked like raisins, they felt like raisins, and yay, they even tasted like raisins.  Just one small problem:  every one carried it’s tiny stem.  So I spent ten minutes carefully pulling out the stems.

Mars, Jupiter, Venus grapes

Mars, Jupiter, Venus grapes

Jed stopped by to watch.

“That can’t be the way they make raisins.  No way they pull all those stems off by hand.”

“I know, but they taste terrible if the stems are left on.”

“And why are you only doing a few at a time?”

“Because they don’t seem to turn into raisins at the same time.  Some were turning rock hard.”

He just raised an eyebrow and left me to figure out a better way.

After a couple more hours, I decided to pull all the grapes off a few bunches and just lay them on the pan.  It was messy work, with grape juice getting over everything.  As I monitored this batch baking, I could see that grapes were sticking together, and tried stirring the grapes a few times.  The grapes stuck to my spoon and then to my fingers.  Jed was right, this can’t be the way the commercial growers make grapes.  But by evening most of the grapes were looking very raisiny, so I pulled them off the pan, let them cool, and then ran them under water to get rid of the juice.  On to the counter to dry for a while, and then a tasting.



Our home made raisins have turned out to be delicious, not as tart a a dried cranberry, but not as sweet as what comes from the grocery store.  There is real variation in the flavor, which makes them much more interesting to eat.

So I’ve deemed this adventure a success, and even though this wasn’t a real harvest, it still qualifies as the fruits of our labor.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Lazy Lester

“Want some grapes?”  A big bunch of red table grapes was dangling out the window of an ancient black Ford sedan.

If you have 3 acres of grapes growing in front of your house, one thing you don’t anticipate is someone pulling up out of the blue and offering you grapes.

Jed and I had ventured out to the vineyard on this cold cold March morning for the ostensible purpose of stringing catch wires on to the trellising.  The real purpose was to keep Jed from going stir-crazy waiting for warm weather to arrive.

So there we were, with a heavy load of wire on the spinning Jenny, half way through the first row when we heard a voice call out asking if we wanted some grapes.  We both looked at each other in surprise.   I got to the old Ford first.   Inside were several boxes of grapes surrounded by old magazines, maps, coffee cups, and other assorted unidentifiable items.  A grizzled face looked up with a smile that was missing more than a few teeth.

“My son used to mow this field when it had the big bumps around the outside. You growing grapes here?”

“We hope to.”

“This used to be a farm you know.  I knew the people who lived here.”

“Ah.  We heard there used to be a peach orchard here.”

“There used to be a farm across the road too.”

“So we’d heard.”

“I knew them too.”

By now our visitor had gotten out of his car and was surveying our field.

“So, do you live nearby?”

“Down near the intersection of 45 and (garbled).”

“My name is Pam, and this is my husband, Jed.  And your name is?”

“They call me Lazy Lester,” he said.  Then with a mischievous grin,  “Sometimes they call me Crazy Lester.  Do you want these grapes?”

“Well, thank you!  Did you grow these?”

“No.  What kind of grapes are you growing?”

“Most of the vineyard is merlot, but we have one row of table grapes.  I can’t remember the names of the varieties.  What kind of grapes are these?”

“I dunno.  Here, have a peach.”  Out comes a peach with a small sticker saying it’s from Chile.

“Oh goodness.  We’ll have this fruit for our break this morning.  Are you a fruit wholesaler?”

“No no.”  Out come three small kiwis from the car which Lester hands to me.  “Do you subscribe to the grape magazine?”

“Well, I think there is more than one, but we do get a vineyard management magazine.”

“I’ve got one you can have.”  Lester starts rummaging around in the back seat of his car.  It can’t be found. He turns back to us and asks us what we do.  Jed explains that he has a company that does movie previews on line.

Lester nods and returns to rummaging in his back seat.  Soon he produces an 8 x 10 glossy of the band Kiss and says he read that they wear more make-up than anyone.  “Here, you take it.”  We decline smiling.  Then he asks ” Do you know what the oldest part of a computer is?”  Jed ventures a couple of guesses that Lester declares wrong before he announces “The barcode.  Created right here in New Jersey.”

Jed nodded, “Hey, that’s true! I forgot about that.”

“Who invented the first motorcycle.?”

I guessed Harley Davidson since I knew they had a factory in Pennsylvania, and a big dealership near the Delware Memorial Bridge.

“Mercedes.  What’s the oldest magazine in the U.S.?”

I’m thinking it might be ‘The Ladies Home Journal” but I’m not sure it’s still being published.  Jed guesses ‘Time”.

“Nope.  ‘National Geographic.’  One of their photographers was from south Jersey.  I met him when he gave a talk.  I read a lot.  I like to know things.  How old do you think I am?”

Lester looks like he is in his mid-eighties to me, but I hesitate to say that.  Jed jumps in with “I have no idea.  How old are you?”

“I’m 78,  But I look a lot older because I almost died twice.  Once my house burned.  I had to be in the hospital for three weeks.  They changed the bandages every day.  I have scars on my back now.  It cost over $640,000.”

“Yikes.  That had to be scary.”

“Then I had a heart attack.  But I’m still here.  I look old though.”

“I don’t know.  You look pretty good to me, Lester,” said Jed.

Lester's Fruit

Lester’s Fruit

I have been carrying the grapes, the peach, and three kiwis this whole time, so I turn to put them in the wagon with the spinning Jenny.

“Well, I better get going.  I still have three more stops to make today.”

“Thanks for all the fruit, Lester.  You’ll have to stop back when we have grapes on our vines and we’ll give you some of ours.”

“I don’t much like fruit.”  He got back in his car, and backed it around to head out onto the road.

“It’s way too cold to be doing this.  Let’s finish this row and head back inside,” said Jed.

Later, we snacked on Lester’s grapes as we warmed up on coffee.  Lester had known our field through multiple owners.  We wondered what he thought about a vineyard being there now.  He had never said.

Categories: The Vineyard Today | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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