native to: many regions, including Asia, Africa, and North America
in season here: late August-September
Grapes can be loosely categorized as table, wine, or raisin grapes. They’re technically berries, and come in a wide range of colors and sizes. They were cultivated in Asia as early as 5000 B.C.E and come to us with a certain mystique, being the source of the classical world’s sacred intoxicant, wine. In the 2nd century C.E., when they were being planted in the Rhine Valley, over 90 varieties were known. Different native varieties can be found all over the world. Concord and muscadine grapes are native to North America, while the Amur grape is native to Asia.

Grapes are a source of several phytonutrients, including resveratrol, that are thought to increase longevity. They have a low glycemic index and are good for balancing blood sugar (two points that, it turns out, are not as closely linked as we’ve been led to believe). They also provide melatonin and unique oligopeptides with antibacterial properties. The skins and seeds (if any) are particularly high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Grapes also greatly benefit the cardiovascular system, including blood pressure regulation and improving cholesterol levels. Regular consumption of grapes or grape juice can even improve your ability to learn, making them a great study snack. They also provide vitamins B2, C, and K, as well as copper and other micronutrient minerals. Raisins, of course, are higher in sugar and calories, although they offer pretty much the same nutrients otherwise.

Grapes are another of those foods that retain pesticide residues well, making organic grapes a good choice. Genetically engineered grapes do exist, but are still very rare. Generally speaking, red grapes are the sweetest, white grapes (actually light green) are next, and purple or blue-black grapes are the least sweet and most “grape-y” in flavor. Grapes can be frozen, although that does reduce their flavor somewhat; frozen grapes can make a great summertime snack.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw grapes
label-style nutrition information for grape juice
label-style nutrition information for raisins
World’s Healthiest Foods
raisins at Nutrition and You

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.

Spiced grape juice

3-4 lbs. white grapes, or a combination of white, red, and purple grapes*
water as needed
generous 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1/4-inch piece of long pepper**
dash nutmeg
9 cardamom seeds
1/4 tsp. grains of paradise**
1/4 tsp. chopped ginger

Wash and stem grapes. Place in a kettle and add enough water to keep grapes from burning. Slowly heat grapes, occasionally mashing and stirring, until they start to simmer. Simmer grapes (still mashing and stirring occasionally) until soft and starting to burst, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth and let juice drain into a kettle or bowl (I have found that cheesecloth laid over a steamer basket fitted into a good-sized kettle works well). Leave to drip several hours, then squeeze bag or cheesecloth to express any remaining juice. Discard skins and chill juice at least 24 hours to allow lees to settle.

Pour off juice, either being careful not to disturb sediment or filtering through a coffee filter. Adjust the amount to about 750 ml. (3-3 1/4 cups). Place all spices except ginger in a mortar and grind coarsely; add to juice along with ginger. Return juice to refrigerator and let sit; taste just before bedtime and make any adjustments in spices you think necessary (remembering that spices will grow stronger); add sugar or honey if you want (not recommended); let sit at least overnight. At this point it’s ready to drink.

If you’ve made enough to can, strain juice through another coffee filter, a tea towel or similar cloth (remembering that the juice will stain), or a layer or two of good-quality paper towels to remove spices. Bring juice to a boil and pour into sterilized jars, leaving at least 1/4-inch headspace. Process in boiling water 5 minutes for quarts or smaller. If you can this in jelly jars, you have nice individual drinks that don’t have to be refrigerated, although you’ll want to pack a can opener in that lunch.

Adapted from: To the king’s taste / Lorna J. Sass, in an attempt to mimic the muste served at the Bors Hede.

Juicing and canning instructions from the National Center for Home Food Preservation

*It is possible to use bottled grape juice for this recipe, but juice from concentrate is significantly sweeter than juice that has never been concentrated — so much so that I cannot recommend it. If you can find bottled juice that is a mix of from-concentrate and never-concentrated, you can try adjusting the sweetness by adding the acid blend used in winemaking (I have not had good results from trying this with juice that is all from concentrate, however).

**Try Buck’s or Penzey’s for the more unusual spices; grains of paradise can sometimes also be found among brewing and winemaking supplies.

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.