Rick Gush
September 24, 2010

Photo by Rick Gush

The grapes on my American Concord grapevine aren’t quite ripe yet.

We’ve been eating the first few grapes in the last week, but the big harvest is still a week or two away, and the rainy days we’ve been getting in Liguria lately aren’t speeding things up. I suppose I could cut away a lot of the leaves, but I’m lazy and the year that I did run around and trim all the shading growth, the grapes didn’t really seem to be any better.

The vine is loaded with small bunches of grapes, but the vast majority are still not completely ripe. The slightly unripe grapes taste fine, sort of like a crunchy table grape, but once the grapes mature fully they become really sweet and the skunky flavor that I like becomes delightfully strong.

The grape is an American Concord, which is very common in this part of Italy. I get a kick out of the fact that this variety is often called French Dwarf around here, despite the fact that it is neither French nor dwarf. Our vine is perhaps 30 years old and sprawls across the lower part of the garden cliff.

I cut the grapevine’s spread down about 50 percent last fall, but it’s still quite vigorous. I estimate we’ll harvest about 500 small to medium bunches this year. Two years ago we had a huge grape harvest. We collected around 1,000 bunches, and some of those were really big.

The grape harvest will last about a month, during which we will eat grapes with just about every meal.  We’ll also give away a fair amount to friends and family. This is another crop with which I get to score points with my mother-in-law, as these are the same variety she remembers from her rustic childhood.

I have a friend who has a lot of this variety among his vineyards, and he mixes it with the other more classic wine grapes when he makes his wine.  His wine is pretty good and it doesn’t taste anything like the Concord grape wines I’ve tasted.

These grapes do have a lot of seeds. My wife often spits out the seeds when she eats them, but I just crunch the whole grapes seeds and all. I am sort of a goat, and don’t peel apples, kiwi or peaches when I eat them, but my wife always does.

In fact, I often make some raisins from our grapes. It’s not hot enough here to sun-dry the raisins, so I do it in the oven. With the oven at the lowest possible heat, I shuffle plates full of grapes in and out of the oven, leaving each plate inside for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then I let it cool for a half hour. In two days I can make 10 to 15 plates full of nice raisins. 

The last time I made grapes I produced almost two kilos. The flavor of these raisins is really sweet and strong, and I eat them like candy. Of course, the seeds are still in them, so most people say “Uh, these are sort of crunchy.” But being the goat that I am, I think they’re just swell. I really like to put them in with my granola, and there, the crunch just adds to the mix.

Read more of Rick’s Favorite Crops »

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