This week the bumper crop is grapes.
For regular readers who were eager to read endless columns about harvesting, preserving and eating ripe red tomatoes, no need to lament. I’ll have plenty to say about tomatoes as the weeks progress.
However, I need to write about grapes right this minute. Yesterday, today and for just a few more days, I have grapes on every shelf in the refrigerator. My freezer is filled with frozen fruit. Yet, I have found the smallest of available spaces to squeeze in the smallest of bags filled with grapes. (Frozen grapes, by the way, are a great treat when you run out of low-carb fudgsicles after the stores have closed).
I’ll attribute the overabundance of grapes to the fact that the grapevines were expertly groomed in mid-winter. I’m certainly not bragging here. An actual expert showed up at my house while I was not home and pruned my grapevines when I wasn’t looking. Thank you Mark Carlson, (who writes an email newsletter about pruning and trimming, http://www.secondleaves.com/). Mark stops by periodically to say hello, and sometimes I am actually at home. He never calls first.
I’m wildly speculating here, but my guess is if he doesn’t see my car in the driveway he looks around my yard. Something in my yard will scream at him, and he can’t help himself but get to work.
At first I thought that he must feel sorry for me. When I’m teaching, I run out of time to do important things like prune the grapevines and put away my groceries. In the time of pandemic, I had slow, languorous moments — many, many moments. Now I wonder if Mark feels sorry for me because I obviously don’t know what to do in my yard.
Last winter I began to prune the grapevines, which weave in and out of the cyclone fence between my square of earth and the yard of my Totally Cool Neighbor. However, I soon got sidetracked when I noticed the grapevines were pliable. I found a video on YouTube, created by a gal who wrassled with grapevines like some would rope a calf at a rodeo. Soon I had 12-foot sections of vines snaking across my lawn, pruned and ready to twirl. By the time dusk arrived, I had completely forgotten to finish pruning the actual vine.
Sadly, none of my friends wanted the wreaths I made. If you’re a crafter and want some now-weathered, circular frames, poorly crafted during the down-time of coronavirus, let me know. They now have a distinct “weathered look” after sitting in the sun all summer.
When Mark arrived last winter, he must have spotted my vines and wondered why they were pruned so poorly.
I’m hoping that one day Mark and I will have a deep discussion about that oak tree that was “pruned” badly when the Handsome Woodsman tried to kill it with the lawnmower.
After Mark’s expert touch, the grapevine reacted with gratitude and this year it yielded more grapes than I would have ever requested. (For some useful tips on grapevine maintenance: https://extension.umn.edu/fruit/growing-grapes-home-garden#watering-986011)
When do you harvest grapes? My experience is that you nibble a few grapes while they are on the vine and decide if they taste mostly ripe. If you notice a few juicy bulbs have started to turn to raisins, don’t wait any longer.
I certainly won’t complain that there are too many grapes. When my friend Kara stopped by for a garden chat, I put grapes on the picnic table and she couldn’t resist a nibble, and then many more.
Cold grapes are like that. When it’s hot and you’re sitting outside with no breeze for hundreds of miles, a bowl of cold grapes is the next best thing to a chilled wet rag on the nape of your neck.
The school ‘share table’
The teachers and staff are beginning to trickle in at my new school. I’m trying to make new friends, and it feels really good to offer a container of chilled, green grapes. Bonus that I’m proud of the fact that I grew them in my yard.
Friday, I ventured into the front office, grapes in hand. I also had about five questions in my head, that only office people can answer.
When I offered the grapes, I was immediately pointed toward the “share table,” where I could help myself to cold, ripe plums. There were tomatoes as well, but I already have an overabundance.
Yes, I landed at a good school with good people. Sharing of fruit is only one indicator of “goodness,” but it’s high up there on my list.
Our school board voted last week to begin the school year online. This means I will not be able to share cold grapes with my students.
The problem with grapes, as well as tomatoes, plums, zucchini and sumptuous desserts during the holidays, is that they arrive in abundance at one time.
I’m fairly certain that wine was discovered after piles and piles of grapes were tossed into a mound because the village people were sick of eating grapes. Yeast from the environment was already in the soil, and soon there was some big-time fermentation to discover.
Tune in next week. If all goes well, I’ll have some news on my experimentation with making raisins.