If you've trained your mind to think about buying fruits and vegetables when they are in season, you may have wondered at the supply of fresh grapes in the market right now.
Yes, they are imported. They are from South America where it is harvest season. Seen in many local markets, they are in good supply and at summer prices. They are arriving at a time, for us, when our domestic harvest is still several months away and they'll continue to be available into about mid-May.
They are priced quite favorably and in considerable supply because South America's new modern shipping and packing methods make it possible to ship fine quality in such quantity as to make the grapes affordable.
You will probably recognize some of the varieties of these imported grapes. There's the Thompson Seedless, available all season long and the early green Perlette.
The Cardinal is the first red seeded grape of the imported varieties. Then the seeded, deep purple Ribier which is available for a short time.
The Tokay, with its flame-red berries, the late-maturing green Almeria and the light red to red-purple, cherry-flavored Emperor are all favorites of North American consumers.
Most of these grapes come from a 2600 mile long, string-bean shaped, fertile Central river valley, the two biggest regions being the Aconcagua and the Maipo, lying between the Andes Mountains and the ocean. Here the climate, terrain and the sea of vineyards are very similar to conditions in California's grape-growing area.
Grape growing is not new to South America. In fact it started back in 1870, at about the same time the California grape industry began. Today such ports as Valparaiso are busy places during the 10-weeks shipping season and part of this dramatic increase is due to close quality control, according to the Imported Winter Grape Association.
Selecting imported grapes for your table is no different than selection of summer ones. All grapes are perishable and do not ripen or improve in color or sugar once harvested. Look for attractive bunches that are well-formed with firm, plump berries.
Color is a good indication of ripeness. The green ones should have a slightly amber tinge and the red and purple varieties should be free of any green tinge and have a full rich color.
Grapes should be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator to preserve moisture and to retain their appeal and freshness. Rinse only just before using. The duty "bloom" should remain only until they are rinsed as it is nature's protection against decay.
While fresh table grapes are good eating out of hand and for snacks, here are some recipes using them that you might find being served in the Aconcagua or Maipo Valleys of South America. Grape Dessert Salad 3 tablespoons orange juice 2 tablespoons honey 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint or pinch dried 1 cup plain yogurt 2 seedless oranges, peeled, sectioned 1/2 pound seedless or seeded grapes.
Combine and chill. Makes 4 servings. Baked Fish with Grapes, (South American Style) 4 fresh or frozen white fish steaks (about 1 1/2 lbs.) Salt and pepper 1 tablespoon lemon juice 4 slices tomato 1 clove fresh garlic, minced 3 tablespoons butter 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, finely crushed 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, finely crushed 1/4 teaspoon chili powder 1/4 cup chopped green or red sweet pepper 1/3 cup thinly sliced onion 1/2 cup thinly sliced or coarsely chopped cucumber n1 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley 3/4 cup halved fresh imported winter seedless green grapes
n1 Use European cucumber, with thin, tender skin, when available. Otherwise, pare cucumber lightly, before slicing and chopping.
Arrange fish steaks in shallow baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle with lemon juice. Arrange tomato slice on each fish steak. Cover and bake in moderately hot oven, 375 degrees F. 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook garlic in butter with herbs and chili powder over medium heat , 2 or 3 minutes. Add green pepper, onion and cucumber. Spoon over fish and bake uncovered 10 minutes. Add parsley and grapes and continue baking 5 to 10 minutes longer, until fish flakes with a fork.Makes 4 servings. Vegetable Pilaf 1 cup finely chopped onion 1 cup long grain rice 1/4 cup butter or margarine 1 can (10 3/4 oz.) condensed chicken broth 1/4 cup water 1/2 cup chopped tomato 1/2 cup finely chopped green or red sweet pepper 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley Pepper strips for farnish (optional)
Saute onion and rice in butter until onion is tender and rice lightly browned , about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in broth and water. Bring to boiling, cover and simmer 20 minutes until rice is tender and liquid absorbed. Stir in chopped vegetables. Place in serving bowl and garnish with green and red pepper strips, if desired. Makes 4 servings, about 1 quart. Serve with Baked Fish With Grapes. Imported Grape-Stuffed Sole 1/2 cup halved imported winter green seedless or red grapes 1 cup sliced small fresh mushrooms 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 tablespoon butter Salt 1/8 teaspoon dill weed 1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese 4 filets of sole (1 pound) 1 tablespoon lemon juice Pepper 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Cut grapes in halves, removing any seeds. Saute mushrooms and onion in butter until onion is transparent and vegetables are soft. Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, dill weed, grapes and cheese. Brush sole with lemon juice on both sides, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Place 1/4 the stuffing mixture on one end of each filet, and fold other end over. Arrange on lightly greased shallow baking pan. Bake in hot oven, 400 degrees F. 15 minutes, until fish is cooked and flakes easily with fork. Sprinkle with parsley to serve. Makes 4 servings.