Purple’s a Fruit.

The grapes really came in this year. They’re ripe now; reminding me that nature has its own schedule, regardless of what I else I think I have to do.

So I was out early this morning, cutting clusters, hoping to get some juice pressed before the day’s (previously scheduled) activities began. The sun was just clearing the trees and it was already hot, having only gone down to 70 or so last night.

The bees were active, heading out toward the fields of goldenrod by the barge canal and hydrangeas of the neighborhood for pollen. The grape arbor is adjacent to the hives and the bee smell was strong in the air. (It’s the goldenrod pollen. My friend Bill says, “People think it stinks. Unless they happen to like it.”) Adrienne calls the bee smell sweet; I think it’s nutty. Either way, it was heavy and cloying in the close morning air. All the odors of the yard – flowers, vegetables, bees and compost – are heady these days with the final fullness of summer.

Grapes don’t ripen simultaneously, even those in the same cluster, so the idea was to find those bunches with the fewest unripe grapes. The big steel salad bowl was quickly filled and many left hanging, but I had at some point to find an accommodation between nature’s agenda and my own.

The grapes are Concords, for which I have a nostalgic fondness. My grandparents grew Concords, among many other things in their copious gardens, whose wonderful fecundity I did not appreciate as a child. We’ve been eating grapes at the table for a week or so, but I really wanted some juice.

I brought them in the house and pulled 348 grapes from the stems. (Yes, I counted. It soothes the OCD.) My neighbor Margaret gave me a conical strainer with a matching wooden pestle, just like the one my grandmother used to use, also nostalgic and I suppose set me up for what happened when I plunged the point of the pestle into the fruit.

The aroma that rose into my face was something I hadn’t smelled for 40 years. It was the same burst of grape I last enjoyed in my grandparents’ kitchen in Fairport, NY. If someone had been smoking a cheap cigar in the basement, the mood would have been complete.

The skin of the Concord grape is Phoenician purple, the meat bright green. The color of the juice somewhere between pink and purple. The taste is tart and rich and distinctly grape.

That the taste of a grape is grape should go without saying, but a backyard Concord in season is miles away from those bland little bags of water, imported from all ends of the Earth, that are displayed in produce sections year-round.

The flavor of Concords is the flavor grape candy and grape soda once attempted to mimic, before they were bastardized into incoherence. When Homer Simpson tells Lisa, “Purple’s a fruit,” he means Concord grape.

I strained the juice a second time (lots of sediment) and offered the first cup to Adrienne. She lifted it in both hands like a chalice and inspired the bouquet, then took a slight sip.

“Wow. That really brings back memories.” Yes, there was a day before high fructose corn syrup. Concord juice is heady stuff, best cut with the juice of white grapes or some other fruit.

These are the best days of the garden. Tomato salad every night, chile rellenos next week, fresh broccoli and cucumbers. I was recently treated to zucchini cobbler. It was delicious — and you’ve got to use the massive brutes up somehow.

© Mark Floegel, 2010

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