Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall harvest classics

When I think of September and late summer, more often than not, I think of all the amazing fruits and vegetables that are readily abundant and available at markets this time of year on the East Coast. Walking through the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesday, the colors, scents and shapes of what has been growing utterly amazed me (I wish I had a picture of this to share with you). Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchinis and summer squashes, remaining vestiges of summer still available thanks to the recent sun and heat. Yet, also coming into season right now are apples (my absolute my family members and close friends can attest, "appie" for apple juice being my first word, before "mom" or "dad."), winter squashes, pumpkins, brussels sprouts, and grapes.

One of my most recent finds - and now obesessions - is a variety of apple wine from a vendor in New York. Eve's Cidery, based in Ithaca, NY, sells bottles of the most divine wines and essences produced from a rather unexpected ingredient: apples! My favorite kind of their apple wine is, hands down, their "Rustica," fruity and sweet, yet with 7% alcohol, does do the trick. I like it as an aperitif, but it would also go nicely with cheeses and wheatmeal crackers, or possibly even as a light dessert wine. Eve's also bottles an "Apple Essence," which truly is a sweet dessert wine, I will liken it a bit to Moscato or Sauternes, but with true apple flavor shining through and through. They were out of it this past week -- I hope it will re-appear, soon!

My other recent, well, it's not a find, as I found it many, many years ago. Rediscovery? Remembrance? Possibly. Walking my dogs two weeks ago, I looked up in the grape vines that overtake much of the roadside brush here in RI. I was simply expecting just to see the green leaves, but much to my surprise, I saw elegant clump after clump of wild concord (I would guess -- they taste like them) grapes! There are quite a view vineyards near us here (Sakonnet, Westport Rivers, to name two favorites), so I know it is a good climate for growing grapes, but I have never quite seen the bounty I have seen this year!

So, it was quite a delight to come back to RI last night and hear there is a large bag of grapes from a dear friend for us to use. I recently witnessed ABC Kitchen's Dan Kluger and Cindy Bearman make the most amazing Concord Grape tart, using real grapes to make the juice. With visions of a lovely pannacotta with a concord grape gelee floating through my head (and I don't particularly like pannacotta!), Dan and Cindy's recipe inspired me to do something similar with our grapes.

The grapes we have are particularly sweet, probably thanks to the abundance of sun we had this summer which helps to concentrate the grape flavor and sweetness. My only frustration was that I do not have a chinois at home, so I was squeezing a cheesecloth with my bare hands. Anyone who has played with dark grapes will know this -- grape juice really really stains! Nevertheless, it was a fun project, and I am looking forward to thinking about what to do with all this juice

What would you make or bake with fresh concord grape juice?

Fresh Grape Juice

4 large bunches of grapes, picked and washed, about 4 quarts
1 cup water

Place the washed grapes in the saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil and then turn head to medium and cook 10 minutes, mushing the grapes well to remove the fruit from the skins, and seeds from the fruit. After 10 minutes, remove the grapes from the heat and let sit til about room temperature. Strain well through 4 layers of cheesecloth, or use a chinois. Either use, chill for use within a couple of days, or freeze. I've loved using it diluted with ginger ale (a la Transfusion, a favorite drink at the pool snack bar at the Bedford Golf & Tennis Club growing up), sparkling water, prosecco, or even a straight up sip (or two). SO so good!

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