Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Grape news

One of the few beverages I actively dislike is grape juice. My mother says it goes back to an unpleasant experience at a birthday party as a child. So while I'll happily drink coffee, tea, citrus juices, all manner of ghastly carbonated drinks from RC to Yahoo (I grew up calling them tonic), and I have a secret fondness for Hawaiian punch, my lip curls involuntarily at the site of dark purple Welch's grape juice. In a word, yuck.

Grapes, I like. I don't even mind the ones with seeds. So when we bought our current house two years ago, I was pleased to see a young grapevine twining over the arbor. The first year it didn't do much, but last year it had plenty of reddish grapes that I turned into delicious raisins. This year, after I followed Martha Stewart's advice to prune the vine back to a few leaders in February, it simply exploded with big red grapes. More than enough for my raisins, so I made...grape juice. (Put the grapes in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, cool and strain through cheese cloth.) The result was a startling, nearly day-glo pinkish-red juice. It tasted amazing: tart, sweet and powerful.

This grape juice had no resemblence at all to the sickeningly sweet, monotonous, dark purple stuff that comes in bottles.

I realized immediately that this is why people drink grape juice. Our grandmothers used to make it: Picking the grapes off the vines, removing the annoying little stems, cooking, straining, and bottling (I froze mine). It was delicious. It was a pain. Grandma probably sighed with relief when the first commercially-bottled grape juice appeared on the shelves down at the local market. "Doesn't taste near as good as yours, Hattie," Grandpa said the first time she served it. I suspect she didn't give a hoot. No more purple stains on her aprons. And, in all likelihood, bottled grape juice in those days probably tasted more like real grape juice.

Next time you hear an elderly woman muttering about how some things just don't taste as good as they used, don't go getting her started on grape juice.

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