Good Grapes


I think the world must be divided into two types of people – those who taste their grapes at the grocery store before they buy them, and those who glare at the grape-tasters as if they have caught a robbery in progress.

I am an unapologetic member of the first group and believe me, it’s not because I have criminal tendencies or because I just can’t stop myself from having a tempting little snack at some corporate giant’s expense. I taste my grapes before I buy because all too often I have arrived home with a gorgeous, expensive bunch of grapes imported from God-knows where that turn out to be insufferably sour or have no ttaste at all.

Man that makes me mad. Even with in-store tasting it’s hard to guarantee a delicious bunch of grapes anymore here in Indiana, so  mostly I have stopped trying.

But as I was about to leave the Farmers Market last Saturday, so weighted down with heavy end-of-summer vegetables that I could hardly haul the basket one more step, I stopped at one of my favorite stands to buy some of the sweetest, cutest, tiniest eggplants you have ever seen. Adding a couple of pints of those to my bulging woven basket, I caught sight of a display of table grapes.

Grapes in Indiana?  With the proprietor of the stand looking right at me, I was reluctant to subject them to my usual test so I just asked: these any good? Oh yes, she assured me, showing me the Simmons Winery logo on her tee shirt. Since local market rules don’t let them sell their wine, I had never realized that they were a winery, but maybe they knew what they were doing in the grape-department. I bought a bunch, and once they were legally mine, promptly popped one in my mouth.

Oh. My. God.

Grapes can taste like that? These grapes were a revelation, bursting with a honey-like sweetness and the intense flavor of… grapes? I guess I never knew.

So I have been savoring them slowly all week, reluctant to finish them off before Saturday when I hope I can buy some more. But last night I noticed they were getting a little soft and tired looking, so I thought I’d throw the rest in the juicer. Wow. I got a full glass of something so totally Un-Welch’s that can’t believe it’s related to that dark purple, moustache-making sugary kid’s drink.

Real grape juice, from grapes. It wasn’t the prettiest stuff – a grassy green that looked like extra virgin olive oil without the glossy sheen – but it tasted like nectar. Wonderfully sweet, with the crisp fall overtones of an apple. I cut it with a little Pellegrino and it became more delicate, sparkling and refreshing, a meal-enhancing beverage for non-wine drinkers. I was especially interested in this lately, ever since I conducted a little taste test with these products and became convinced that such beverages must exist, but that no one has found them yet.

But more on that another time. For now I am still focused on my new-found grape friends and wondering how they would taste in a palate cleansing sorbet. Or perhaps in Bea’s lovely clafoutis recipe at La Tartine Gourmande? Maybe on Saturday I can find out.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Indiana wine, who knew?
    I’ll have to try this–if I can find the right grapes (I’m a grape tester myself). It sounds unbelievably refreshing.


  2. Charmaine says:

    I’m an admitted grape taster myself. It does always feel a bit scandalous, doesn’t it?


  3. Mae says:

    Christine, i totally agree with you on the ‘taste first’ front. Like you, i often go home with a huge bunch and end up not eating them. But i only ‘taste first’ when i’m not with my ‘law-abiding’ fiance. As i always get told off by him. hehe.


  4. Kevin says:

    I would never have thought to pull out the juicer to use those waning grapes–you’re a genius! And it sound delicious. Hhmmmm…where is that juicer anyway?


  5. Christine says:

    Hey Lisa, Charmaine and Mae — glad to know I am not the only grape taster out there.
    There is all kinds of Indiana wine, Lisa, though not all made with Indiana grapes. There’s even an Indiana Wine Trail. Not sure much of it is worth sampling, although the local winery down the road from our house (Oliver Winery) actually does a decent ice wine.
    Mae, you’ll have to do one of those “hey, lookover there!” numbers and while your fiance has his back turned, quickly pop a grape into your mouth. Trouble is, sometimes you have to test several bunches and he might catch on. 🙂
    It’s especially tricky now here because they package grapes in those new plastic bags with the slits cut in them for ventilation. I have learned to extract a grape through the slits without ripping the bag, but I get some *very* weird looks.
    Kevin, that’s the downside of having a cool and unusual kitchen with lots of storage space. I am sure that juicer is there somewhere….


  6. Are these photos on your site taken by you? This grape-shot (and all of them really) is/are spectaular.
    (Of course, your writing is fantastic too.)
    I like grapes without seeds. And it seems like I’ve had some tiny little grapes that tasted good… like a miniature cluster of grapes. Tiny magenta/violet grapes. One has to eat A BUNCH of these. Like small “flavor pills.” Not much food there but a “whole-lotta-bang.” Any idea what those were?


  7. Christine says:

    Yep, I take ’em. I am pretty new at this so I just shoot a whole lot, thank God for digital cameras and Photoshop, and sometimes I get a good picture out of the deal. I thought the grape one was nice too — thanks to a serendipitous appearance of the sun just as I was shooting. Wish I knew how to do that on purpose.
    I think those must be champagne grapes you had. Clusters of little eensy beensy grapes — you are right that they take a lot of eating.


  8. Anna Maria says:

    I have just discovered your site, and am happy I did. Your photographs and writing are wonderful.
    I am hoping your Zoe is still hanging in there and eating pizza crusts. I have 3 dogs, and know very well how their short, beautiful life goes by in a flash. Much too fast.
    The grape photograph is amazing. Looks like a Dutch stillife.


  9. Christine says:

    Anna Maria,
    Thanks for your very kind words. I am glad you came by. Zoë is still with us, unbelievably, rallying a bit on the very day I called the vet to make an appt. to let her go. Haven’t tried her on pizza crusts, but she is eating chicken and pasta with pesto Genovese. Go figure. Hope to see you here again.


  10. Sara says:

    My fellow foodie and roommate, Anna, and I just learned our lesson about grape tasting as the bunch now sitting in our refrigerator is going bad because we didn’t taste first and got stuck with a painfully sour bunch! Maybe grape tasting should be incorporated into H204’s curriculum? 🙂


  11. Fenton says:

    Your eating grapes in the supermarket reminds me of my dad. I grew up in Florida where we had wonderful fruit stands. Before you bought anything you were always given a slice or a taste of the fruit. Because of the fruit stand culture everyone tasted fruit in the grocery stores as well. How else would you know if it meet your expectations. When I visit Florida now most of the favored fruit stands are gone and not everyone tastes the fruit in the markets. I am glad you still do. I know my dad would too.


  12. It never even occurred to me to taste the grapes. 🙂


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