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Fine Vine, Grape Expectation for a Dickens of a Harvest

May 24, 1997|From Associated Press

Some 10,000 varieties of grapes are cultivated worldwide, and grapes are grown almost everywhere in the world.

Most are made into wine, grape juice, jellies, raisins, vinegar and the like, Country Living reports in its current issue. Only a small percentage of these grape varieties are eaten fresh.

California growers produce roughly 97% of America's table grapes. The state's all but ubiquitous green 'Thompson Seedless' is but one of 50 types of table grapes produced commercially in California.

Unlike many fresh fruits, grapes do not become any sweeter once they are picked, so they should be harvested only when fully ripe. Ripe green grapes should show an amber blush. Red and blue-black grapes should be free of any green tinge.

When selecting grapes at the produce market, look for plump, firm berries attached to pliable green stems. Like plums and other farm-stand fruit, grapes sometimes possess a waxy white coating referred to as bloom. This natural film protects the berries from water loss, bacteria and sunburn while they are on the vine. Bloom is sometimes mistaken for dust or pesticide residues.

Grapes spoil easily when left in plastic bags or other sealed containers. It is best to remove any packaging, then place grape clusters in the refrigerator in an open bowl lined with paper towels.

Avoid piling grape clusters one atop the other. Under the proper conditions, grapes should stay fresh for several days. Before serving, rinse in cold running water.

Weekend and fair-weather gardeners find it difficult to maintain grapevines properly. If left untended, they produce lushly foliaged canes, but little, if any, fruit.

Take advantage of the handsome foliage grapevines provide by using the leaves to line platters on which you serve cheeses and desserts. Adding one or two fresh grape leaves to a jar of cucumber or fruit pickles while canning helps the pickles retain their shape.

While even the youngest, tenderest grape leaves make a tough choice for salad greens, blanched leaves prove both useful and flavorful in wrapping a wide range of appetizers and entrees. Eastern Mediterranean cooks encase rice-and-lamb mixtures in blanched, fresh grape leaves. Dipped in boiling water, grape leaves can be used to wrap pieces of chicken, fish and vegetables, or to line terrine or loaf pans when making pates.

Because of their handy size and mild flavor, young grape leaves also work well as casings for wrapped appetizers filled with savory mixtures of meat and poultry or sliced marinated salmon.

For culinary purposes, it is best to pick leaves in the spring when they are light green and about 6 inches in diameter. Blanched leaves freeze well for up to six months.

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