Grapes! These amazing little round balls of sweetness are also great for our health, no matter whether they are fresh off the vine, served dry and wrinkled, or sipped slowly and savored as wine.
Unless you are a John Steinbeck fan, you can simply skip the "wrath" part of the title. There's nothing wrathful about a grape. I just thought the words in the title sort of rolled off my tongue when I said them, a little like the way grapes do when we eat them. What a great plant and what a wonderful fruit!
Grapes, genus Vitis
, have been around much longer than we might realize. We know the plant grew wild in prehistoric times. Traces of it have been found in ancient dwelling caves. We know it was the oldest fruit to be cultivated, as early as 5000 BC in Asia. It's mentioned as "wine" in the Old Testament, if translations are correct, and in the New Testament as "fruit of the vine." Hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt depict the vine, and residue was found in urns within burial tombs. The Egyptians made a drink from the grapes, but it was used only in religious rituals, so no wine-filled merrymaking found its way into ancient Egypt, except perhaps behind closed doors. It was the ancient Greeks and Romans who introduced wine making and so began the merrymaking. As traders and explorers traveled, so did the grapes, and they appeared in the Rhine Valley in Germany in the second century AD, an area still known for its wines. Eventually, the traveling grapes wound their way across an ocean or two and came to the United States. Today most grapes in the states come from California, where grapevines are planted on more than 700,000 acres.
Grapes are grown commercially for three different results: grapes for the table, grapes for wine, and grapes for raisins. However, all the sources on the entire Internet forgot the very best part. Grapevines! If you've never climbed a grapevine that's bigger around than your arm, or swung on a grapevine that creaked with your weight, or jumped from a grapevine to cross a creek, let me tell you, you have missed out on some serious excitement. And if you've never made a grapevine wreath, or gathered grapevines in December to wrap around your Christmas tree, you've missed out on some serious fun.
I need to tell you about the great health benefits that grapes provide. Listen up, this is incredibly important to us old folks. Grapes are now believed to play a role in longevity! They contain a phytonutrient called resveratol, and it contains genes that affect the life span. If you want to live a longer, healthier life, you might want to consider adding grapes to your diet.
In addition to its longevity properties, the grape is also a blood sugar regulator and is good for liver function. Since grapes are included among berry fruits, I'll mention that a good diet includes a cup of berries three or four times a week in order to maintain good health. Grapes are loaded with Vitamin K, copper, and Vitamin B3 along with other healthy nutrients. Another good thing to consider: A cup of grapes is only about 100 highly nutritious calories! Grapes are great all on their own, in salads, for jellies and jams, for snacks, or as topping for some desserts. Try grapes in yogurt. Great anytime!
One thing you need to be very careful about: Commercially grown grapes have a problem with pesticide residue. To avoid the problem, we can wash them very well, we can grow our own, or we can buy those that have been organically grown.
I love all grapes, but their colors will tell you whether they are tart or sweet. Green grapes are a bit sweet, but some varieties are quiet tart, though incredibly tasty. The sweetest grapes are red, and blue/black grapes are the least sweet. Grapes like the Concord variety have a delicious flavor without very much sweetness. Grapes should always be stored in the fridge and will stay fresh for about 5-7 days. Frozen grapes are great too, if you take them off the stem, freeze them on a flat sheet, and then toss them into a freezer storage bag after they're frozen. On a hot day, nothing's better.
Now let's talk about raisins. Would you like to make them? Easy! First start with firm and fresh green or purple grapes. I've never tried to make raisins from red grapes, so I can't advise you there. I do know about green and purple, but be sure they are very firm and not mushy. Here are the steps to take:
* Remove any large stems and wash well in cool water
* Place on a tray that is slatted, something like wicker is good, so the air can circulate
* Place them outside in a dry sunny place. If you have dew or fog, be sure to take them in at night and make sure your weather forecast is for sunny and dry
* Rotate the fruit by gently shaking it daily
* Leave the tray of grapes outside for 2 or 3 days or until you can tell they are dry
* Remove from tray and check each raisin for any remaining stems to be removed
* Store in an airtight container in a cool place
* Nibble and enjoy
And that's it! Almost instant homemade raisins. The little ones in your life will love them and so will you!
Now you know about grapes and raisins. Oh. About the wine. I love good wine of any kind, but I don't know a thing about making it. How about if we leave wine making to the big guys while we sit around and nibble the grapes and raisins while we wait?
And by the way, grapes in any form retain all the nutrients, no matter if you eat them fresh, as raisins, or if you sip and savor the wine. See, I told you it was a great fruit!