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.
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.
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.
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.