Sad but true, summer is drawing to a close. And though most Ontario fruit has come and gone, there are still a few late summer windfalls that are just coming into their own. Grapes, for example, are a fruit practically synonymous with fall, and no self-respecting cornucopia would be caught dead without having clusters of deep purple, pale green or dusky blue grapes spilling out of them.
Vineyards all across Ontario’s two major wine producing areas, the Niagara peninsula and Prince Edward County are harvesting numerous varietals that will be pressed into world class wines, but there is one hearty grape variety that since 1849 has continued to wow us year after year, and is so easy to grow that patios and backyards all over Toronto are festooned with it, producing so much fruit that we have to scramble every year to take advantage of the bounty: Concord grapes.
Concord grapes, a cultivar of the fox grape vitis labrusca were developed in the mid- nineteenth century in Concord, Mass., by Ephraim Wales Bull. It is thought he crossed fox grapes, which are native to North America and common in Massachusetts with a European wine grape, vitis viniferis to produce a hearty hybrid that combined the best of the old world and the new. The Concord retained the distinctive and famous “foxy” aroma of its North American parent, a musky aroma compound identified as methyl anthranilate. Within five years of its creation, the Concord grape was pressed into service by none other than Thomas Welch – does that surname ring a bell? – to serve as an alternative to wine at his church. Welch, an ordained minister in the Methodist church developed a method to pasteurize the grape juice specifically so it wouldn’t ferment and become wine, which was forbidden by the church, and the success of Welch’s grape juice began. Incidentally, some wine, especially Kosher wine, is still made from the Concord grape.
But where the Concord really shines is as a table grape, or a snacking grape that appears everywhere from cheese plates to lunch boxes. Concord grapes are the grapes most used for grape jelly as well, and of course the aforementioned juice, and it is the Concord that is the go-to grape when confectioners, soda-pop makers and candy-makers try to capture that grape flavor. Concord grapes are noted for their dark blue colour and dusty powder blue “bloom.” The grape is known as a “slip-skin” variety, and its thick skin, considered by some to be undesirable and slightly bitter is easily removed just by squeezing. The skin, however, should not be discarded, as it is the part of the grape with the highest nutrient value, packed with antioxidants like reservatrol, the chemical that makes it ok to have a glass of red wine a day. Factor in the immune boosting properties also found in the grape and you have one of nature’s true superfoods
The vine itself grows easily and rapidly in this climate, climbing walls and fences even without a trellis, so in that regard the plant makes an amazing privacy vine that explodes with delicious fruit every September and October.
Concord grapes are widely available now, and purchasing a basket of them is a great, inexpensive way to add some high quality food to your diet. Making juice, jam, and even grape pie is super easy and fun, not to mention healthy and delicious.
Even picking them fresh off the vine and placing them in a freezer bag-a super simple task highly recommended for the kiddies- and freezing them ensures that you sill have a supply of grapes that may last the winter. Just grab a handful out of the freezer every time you want to make a smoothie. Amazing.