Wild Things in August - Grape

I used to think that the scent of grape candy was a silly construct of someone's imagination.  Growing up, the only grapes I had eaten were the green seedless ones from the grocery store, perhaps the odd red one with seeds.  But it wasn't until a neighbor brought me a box of concord grapes that I realized that the artificial flavor of grape candy actually mimicked the real thing.

Throughout the infancy of my canning years, I grew to appreciate that enchanting scent - turning it into jars of juice and jelly.  I even experienced my worst-ever kitchen disaster when I boiled over a pot of grape jelly.  That, my friends, in case you hadn't guessed, is a first-class mess.  But my appreciation of those aromatic grapes persisted, even after years of finding spots of boiled-over jelly stuck in places I could never have imagined it would reach.

I had thought I was finished being surprised by grapes.  But when I started scouring the canyons for forage, I was genuinely shocked to find grape vines.  Grapes (Vitis sp.)!  The very same fruit that I came to appreciate from my neighbor's yard, gone wild.  And they are really quite abundant in some spots.  It was like discovering a jackpot, knowing as I did, that not only are the fruit edible, but the leaves and tendrils as well.  Remember, some of the best wild foods are abundant and considered weedy.  You don't have to worry about disturbing their populations, and oftentimes, humans are happy for you to take them as food (that said, always forage responsibly!).

The featured herb for the Wild Things round up in August is grape.  You can use any part of the plant you please.  I'm not sure the fruit in my area will ripen in time to create recipes with it.  If you're like me, and don't yet have ripe fruit (or if your fruit is already spent), then use can still use tender leaves and shoots to create grape recipes for the recipe challenge.

How to Find Grapes

Whether wild or domestic, look for vines which climb by curly tendrils.  Grape leaves may be either heart-shaped or tri-lobed, but all are serrated, and often resemble large maple leaves.  Grapes are much easier to identify once they fruit, at first with green clusters, maturing to purple, often with a frost-colored bloom.  Grapes contain small hard seeds, much like their grocery store counterparts.  Other types of vines may have similar fruit, but the leaves make grapes unique.

The fruit of grapes have the classic sweet-tart flavor that candy makers aspire to.  Of course they make lovely jellies and juices and even wines.  But their complexity also makes a nice pairing with game meats and more.

And don't forget the leaves.  These aren't just another green; grape leaves are tart and lemony - a classic for wrapping rice and meats.  Don't overlook the possibilities when added to stew and casseroles.  (I'd be so happy if somone could submit their family recipe for preserved/canned grape leaves, pretty please!)  For cooking, gather only tender leaves.  Many of my guide books shun older leaves, but for the most part, I've found these to be fine for cooking.  Use your own judgment.

Lastly, did you know that the climbing tendrils of grapes can be eaten?  These shoots can be quite tender, and have the same tart taste as the leaves.  Try them in salads, or as an addition to stir-fries.

Update - I just found out from a friend that the unripe green grapes can be used as food as well.  He reports that their bitterness is nice in a vinaigrette.  I'm very excited about the new flavor possibilities.  Who's with me?


***Wild Things is a foraging recipe challenge, and you are invited to participate!  Gather some grapes (or grape leaves or tendrils), cook up a fabulous recipe (or use one from your archives), then submit it to wildthings.roundup@gmail.com by the end of August to be a part of the round up.  Go collect your own food and cook with it!  Whether you live in the city or the outer reaches, foraging is fun!  If you need more details about Wild Things, consult this post.***

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