Waxing Dionysus: A Story about Making Homemade Wine

Grape Expectations:

It is a well known fact to my regular readers that I am annually bombarded with bumper crops of my Niagara grapes. A variety that I was told was actually a concord and didn’t find out otherwise until years later when I finally got it in the ground and it began bearing fruit. Fruit of lies and deception.

And to be completely honest, these grapes taste awful. Not a fan at all. But of the three varieties I have, this one of course is the healthiest and most robust. It has been a burden of mine for years now. Why not remove it you ask? Well, it serves another purpose as well. That of a cheap shaded patio nook to beat the heat of summer as illustrated below…

Repurposing an unused clothesline: The $50 instant patio!

And it definitely does the job it was intended to do. The only thing is it does so while bearing the most yawn-inducing harvest ever. However, I do enjoy sitting underneath it during those hot days of drought and strife.

The Grapes of Wrath…and Cool Shade.

This years’ crop is no different.  Once again the vines are loaded with juicy berries ripe for the picking.

The hens might be the biggest fans of these grapes. And who am I to deprive them of such ample vittles?

My friend Matt (who I’ll be talking about later) and I connected via a Facebook page called San Diego Backyard Fruit Exchange around the time of last years harvest. When researching my Niagara grape vine, he came across the following info: “Vitis labrusca ‘Niagara’ is a cross of the V. labrusca Concord and Cassady cultivars, which are themselves hybrids. Concord is a hybrid of an unknown experimental interspecific V. vinifera and V. labrusca pairing, and Cassady is an unintentional hybrid that has V. labrusca in its genetic makeup”

Over the years I tried making homemade raisins, fresh grape juice as well as popsicles . But nothing would take away the lack-luster flavor of the Niagara. The raisins were the best results I’ve had from this vine and were actually quite tasty. However, the time it takes to process all the grapes to make raisins leaves much to be desired. I most likely will not do that again on account of my general laziness when it comes to repetitive and dull tasks.

The juice was way too tart for my liking and this may be because the skins of the grapes were included in the processing. The popsicles also sat in my freezer just hoping that I would eventually love them. But I abandoned them quickly and refused to make eye contact until I was cleaning the freezer out a year later. I apologized in my own way as I slowly lowered them into a stream of hot water in the kitchen sink while doing my best James Bond villain impersonation.

Grape popsicle: “Do you expect me to talk?”

Evil James: “No grape popsicle, I expect you to die” [screams of melty horror]

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The Grapes of Wrath Part III: Juicing and Grape Popsicles

Okay, I am officially over these grapes!! As I am certain that you, my gentle readers, are over them as well. This represents my very last post on the subject. Until next year’s crops come in that is. So I’ll make this brief and to the point so we can all move on to bigger and better things!

When I close my eyes at night I have flashes and visions of grapes washing over me. They have it in for me I’m sure of it. The more I harvest, the more I find. They are multiplying and hell-bent on taking over the world! All that stands between you and total grape global dominance is my tenacious efforts to eat them in multiple forms before they overpower and crumble governments.

I am the man on the wall and your last hope for grape free salvation!

Last weekend I enlisted the aid of the lovely Nury to help take out a large portion of the grapes evil troops. She held aloft the giant bowl of power as I hacked and plucked with great fervor and determination. The strain from the shear weight of these fallen soldiers was almost too much for her to bear. Yet she held fast!

The plan of attack was to pull the life giving juices out from the harbingers of grapey destruction leaving nothing but food for the worms and the despairing cry of thousands of fallen grape warriors.

In other words, we made juice.

Not sure why I felt the need to add so much drama, but there it is regardless. If you require some more backstory in case you’ve arrived here directly via the mysteries of the interwebs, check out this article and this article. Then you will better understand why I’m over the grapes at this point.

The juice needed some straining in cheese cloth that was purchased after this photoshoot, which explains its heavy sediment. Having this grape pulp added too much bitterness to the juice for my liking, but once it was strained it was crazy good.

The popsicles were made by adding a mixture of water and sugar to sweeten them up. I’m sure there’s a fancy culinary name for that mixture, but damned if I know it. A sugar reduction maybe (edit: simple syrup)? Either way, they were also very refreshing.

I also had a sneak peek into the upcoming concord grape harvest as one of the bunches began ripening way earlier than the others. I’m sure there’s a name for this as well. Now there’s a grape I can stand behind! I haven’t had a decent concord since I moved to SoCal fifteen years ago. Like an old friend. I can’t wait for the rest to come in.

So now I’m through more than half of the Niagara grapes and am taking orders for all friends and families and neighbors in the local vicinity to come and harvest the rest as I am, like I said, officially over all things grape related! See, that wasn’t too long and drawn out now was it?

The Grapes of Wrath Part II: How to make Homemade Raisins in the Oven

“and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

In my backyard, there is no hunger growing for lack of grapes. I am riddled with them beyond all reckoning. Now I’m nowhere near ready to hire out migrant workers and there are no worker camps set up in the vacant lot next to mine, so perhaps things are not as dire here as they were in Steinbeck’s classic work. But I can’t steal his title without a shout out. Wouldn’t be polite.

In the eyes of this urban farmer, there is no room for hunger or wrath. There is a growing sense of panic, however, as my bazillion bunches of grapes begin to ripen all at the same time. Check here for more grape emergency details. Myself, my friends and my chickens have eaten their fill already and we can’t even put a dent in the vast amounts of grapes that are ready to go. TODAY!

One friend suggested I make raisins out of them, so on Sunday I gave it a go. Now typical raisins are made from Thompson seedless grapes, but I don’t have those in my yard. I have Niagara grapes, which are also seedless but a little bit smaller. Any seedless variety will do, but even grapes with seeds can be made into raisins. Albeit crunchy raisins, but the seeds are loaded with heart-healthy nutrition.

The Niagara grapes produce a tart raisin that reminds me of a tastier and more wholesome Fruit Roll-up. Or Fruit Leather, if you’ve ever had that. They’re actually quite yummy and better yet, will last for years as long as they’re kept in a dark dry place. I’m storing mine in some mason jars, but I doubt they’ll last more than a few days on account of how fast they are going now.

Regardless of what grape you decide to use, the steps are the same. I don’t own a dehydrator, so this will be the oven method. You can even let the sun dry them out, but it takes a lot longer (several weeks) and you run the risk of insects, mold or something that resembles a raisin but is not. If you follow. Poop for those not paying attention. The controlled environment of your kitchen seems to me to be the smarter and faster route.

Another thing that helps when preserving fruits or berries that have a waxy skin is to blanch them. That means soaking them in hot water for about 30 seconds and then placing them into ice water right after that. This causes splits and cracks in the skin and allows for a more even dehydration. Here’s how I did mine, step by step with fancy schmancy photographs of each step.

Step 1: Get yourself some grapes. Duh.

How to Make Organic Raisins 01b_Niagara Grapes
1/500th of my total harvest of Niagara grapes.

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