Posts Tagged With: table 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.

Raisins!

Raisins!

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

Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Sisyphus

Sisyphus must have sensed the moment we planted the last vine in the vineyard.  As we were celebrating that night, Jed and I started to muze about what we should do with the last bit of acreage now that we had decided to plant just 1200 vines instead of 1500 (or 3000 but that was when we were still out of our minds.)

“What about lavender?” I knew it was a Mediterranean plant that did well in rocky soil, and liked hot weather.  I also knew that deer didn’t like its smell or taste which could help act as a deterrent.

“Hmmm,”  came the response from Jed.

“We could plant roses.  They act as an early warning system for grape diseases.”

“Hmmm.”

“We could just plant grass and keep a goat or two out there.”

“What about table grapes?”

“Really?  More grapes?”

The next morning I could hear Jed in the office on the phone with our nursery asking about table grapes, and the next thing I knew he was proudly announcing that another shipment of grapevines would be arriving in a few days:  21 vines each of three varietals of red seedless grapes, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.  “They ripen at different times so we won’t be inundated with more grapes than we can handle.” (Of course, we’ll be inundated!  We have 1200 merlot vines too!)  Mostly I think he just liked the names, fan that he is of the night sky.

Venus grape vine with roots stretching almost to the ground.

Anyway,  it’s a good thing Jed still had the augur on the tractor.  He got right to work drilling another 63 holes.  The shipment came on Wednesday and in all honesty I couldn’t bear to open the familiar looking box knowing I would see more grape vines.  So it sat on the side porch for a couple of days while we finished raking out the rows of merlot.  Finally, on Friday we realized we should get going and cracked open the box.

Yikes!  Sisyphus really knew how to stretch this planting out.  These vines were what I had imagined the wine grapes to be like:  long tangles of roots at one end with long tangles of vines at the other.  Because we were getting these so late in the planting season many had already sent out new green shoots, and separating the vines without knocking off the shoots was nearly impossible.  Because the roots were so long none of them would fit in our holes without being trimmed, and only 10 or so would fit in a bucket for transport to the field.

But finally we got to work and were soon back down on our knees planting what turned out to be the most difficult row of the entire field.  The soil was a miserable mix of clay and stone.  We soon had small rubble piles by each hole, and as the clay that had been drilled up from the hole dried out it turned rock hard poking at your knees and elbows as you worked around the hole.  Even mixing in peat moss wasn’t enough.  Fortunately, Jed had a big pile of good soil from scraping down the aisles on the other side of the vineyard, so he scooped that up and we used it to form the peat mix that we put back into the holes with the vines.  It took two people to plant each hole because the vines were so unwieldy.  By the end of the day Friday we felt like we had traveled to Jupiter.  We had, but we still had to get through Mars and Venus to get back home.

Becca planting Mars vines.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and hot.  Horrible planting weather.  Just to be vindictive Sisyphus added some wind, insuring that we all got peat moss in our eyes, nostrils, ears, and mouths.  By noon we all needed to get out of the sun.  The value of a noon siesta started to make a lot of sense.

Jed hit the hammock after lunch, and Becca was waiting for her friend Jay to arrive for a visit.  I was restless to do something, soI headed over to our friend Steve’s vineyard to do a little shoot thinning which is much less strenuous.     When I got back around 4:30, the three of them  had already finished planting Mars.

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny again so we decided that we would work a little in the morning and wait until the evening to finish up.  Jay’s dad owns a farm and Jay has done any number of tasks over the years.  So he was a pro with a shovel, and knew how to work up the dirt to perfection.  We had forgotten that the other end of the field was much less rocky, and with Jay helping out  the planting went quickly.  By noon we had finished Venus and headed back to the house for lunch, and a celebratory beer.

Becca and Jay working on Venus.

This last row of grape vines fits in nicely with the rest of the vineyard. Only the small markers on the grow tubes identify these vines as table grapes.

Jed has designated this as a sacrifice row:  if the vines thrive despite the soil they will be deer snacks…or turkey snacks.  Maybe we won’t be inundated at harvest time after all.

So, Sisyphus didn’t win after all.

The planting was prolonged, but now instead of scanning the night sky for Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, we can enjoy them whenever we want just by looking out at the vineyard.

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