Concord grapes - a versatile native food

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The dark, smoky blue Concord grape, which thrives in many areas of the country, is thought to have been perfected around 1850 by Ephraim Bull, a neighbor, at least approximately, of Henry David Thoreau.

Grapes have probably always grown wild in plentiful amounts in several areas of the United States. Leif Ericsson supposedly discovered and enjoyed them in Nova Scotia some 500 years before Columbus set foot on this continent. Ericsson named his new world Vinland, or ''wine land.''

Concord grapes are generally regarded as especially good for jelly and table grapes. But of the more than 40 species found in America, most are considered table rather than wine varieties.

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Most of these native grapes have evolved from the Northern Fox grape, whose range is from New England to Georgia and west to Indiana.

Commonly trained on two wire trellises or on taller grape arbors, homegrown grapes are a pleasure to grow and especially nice to eat. It's very difficult to walk by the grape arbor without sampling from the ripening bunches. Whether en route to or from the garden or mailbox, there is always time for one or two.

Concords have a marvelous flavor. The true connoisseur pops the whole grape into the mouth, squashes the flavorful fruit with the teeth, and then swallows the grape whole, probably not even bothering to remove the seeds.

Grape juice may be extracted by mashing the fruit, placing the pulp in a suspended cheesecloth bag, and allowing the clear juice to drip from the bag overnight. The juice may then be canned or frozen and placed in reserve for future use.

Grape jelly, a delight for children and adults alike, is made by first extracting the juice as above and then jelling it according to the simple directions found in the package of any brand of commercially produced pectin.

Grape pie, a most delicious dessert, is well worth the time and effort needed to remove the seeds and still retain the full flavor of pulp and skins.

Concord Grape Pie 4 cups Concord grapes 1 cup sugar 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/4 cup flour 2 tablespoons butter 1 pie shell

Slip the skins from the grapes and save them. Place the pulp in a saucepan and cook gently for a few minutes. Put pulp through a food mill to extract the seeds.

Now add the skins to the seedless pulp. Add sugar, lemon, flour, and melted butter. Mix well. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake at 400 degrees F. 30 to 35 minutes.

Many table grapes shipped in from commercial producers have been influenced by plant hormones artificially introduced to stimulate growth. Such techniques produce beautiful grapes, but the flavor suffers.

If you like grapes, decide to grow your own. All it takes is some space and some patience while waiting for the vines to produce. It is well worth the wait.

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