Harvest season for best grapes short but sweet

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bible says that for everything there is a season. This is certainly true when it comes to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Right now it is harvest season for late summer and autumn produce in the growing areas to the south of us. Everybody knows that apple season is imminent, and many are eagerly anticipating the arrival of their favorite varieties of apples.

Another fruit that is in its prime season right now is grapes. This might surprise you because red and green grapes have been in the stores for months. However, there are some unique and flavorful varieties of grapes that are only available in September and October.

While there are literally hundreds of different kinds of grapes, most of them are grown for wine. Very few of them make it to our grocery stores and to our tables. Green Thompson grapes and Red Flame grapes are the most common table grapes, familiar to most people. However, there are some lesser-known varieties that can only be enjoyed for a limited time because their season is so short.

One variety that I have written about before are Concord grapes. Concord grapes are an American original, closely related to wild grapes. First cultivated in Concord, Mass., they have a classic grape flavor reminiscent of grape jelly and grape bubble gum, a flavor experts refer to as "foxy" because it is the flavor they associate with wild grapes, which are often called "fox" grapes.

It used to be you could never find Concord grapes west of the Mississippi. In recent years, they have been widely planted in Washington state. They have a brief season, only three or four weeks, so enjoy them while you can.

Another variety of grape new to me this year is the blueberry grape. These small, dark, seedless purple grapes have a strong, intensely sweet flavor that almost bursts on your tongue. This is in keeping with a truism I have noticed about grapes: that bigger is not necessarily better. Small grapes usually have more concentrated flavor than large grapes.

An example of this can be found in the black corinth grape. Tiny grapes with a sweet sprightly flavor, they are also marketed as "champagne" grapes. When dried, these grapes are called black currants, although they are really not currants at all. Another very flavorful variety of small grape I tried recently are called sweet petites, which are grown in Idaho of all places.

There are many other kinds of grapes wending their way to produce aisles right now. These next few weeks will be the best time to look for the most unusual and flavorful varieties. And when you find them, feel free to eat as many as you want, for grapes are among the most nutritious of foods, containing an abundance of cell protecting antioxidants.

There are many ways to enjoy grapes. They can be cut into small bunches and eaten as an appetizer, a dessert or a snack. Grapes pair nicely with fine cheeses, and are also delicious eaten alone.

This unusual treatment for grapes is suggested by Alice Waters in "Chez Panisse Fruit."

Oven-roasted grapes

Roasted grapes are an unexpectedly tasty accompaniment to roasted meat.

Start with beautiful bunches of grapes: with a sharp scissors cut the bunches into smallish pretty clusters.

Lay them in a single layer on a baking dish or on a short pan and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast them in a very hot oven for about 10 minutes, until they are very hot all the way through and just beginning to pucker and collapse.

Serve immediately.

• David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.

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