If I ever write a children’s book, I’m going to call it Vineyard Tales. I have so many happy memories from growing up on a grape farm, and now that we’ve come to grape-picking season, they rise in my mind like the syrupy fragrance of ripe Concord grapes. Every fall when the grapes were ripe, I would race out to the vineyards after school. The weather was still sunny, but you could feel autumn coming in the crisp breeze that rustled the milkweed and wild sumac. My mother and my aunts would be picking grapes, methodically working their way down the rows, clipping bunches and dropping them into old wooden beer crates. They pulled the crates along until the box was full, and then started again with a fresh crate, always keeping the farm dog ahead of them in the rows, to flush out pheasants and blue racer snakes. It was hard work.
At the end of the day I would perch on the fender of the tractor as one of my uncles chugged up and down the rows, picking up the full boxes of grapes. Someone else would stand on the sled that was hitched to the tractor, grabbing grape boxes and piling them up on the sled. In retrospect, I would never have let one of my kids ride that jolting tractor, perched so perilously between fender and axle, but it was gloriously liberating and joyful (and none of us ever fell off).
Then we went back to the barn to unload the boxes and put our grapes in the ancient Ford truck, for transport to Welch’s. The truck was so old that excelsior was coming out of the rips in the seat and the horn burped out an oo-ooga sound that made everyone laugh. My uncles managed to get this relic working once a year, just long enough to drive the crop to the depot.
I was the only girl among a big family of boy cousins, except for one girl who lived away from the farm. That made me a ripe target for pranks. One of the boys’ favorites was to come up behind me with a big, juicy bunch of grapes and smash it in my face, grinding the dripping, sticky wetness around and around until it was up my nose and in my hair. It was like getting hit in the face with a bag of cold mucus. My only recourse was to attack from behind when they least expected it, flinging a pre-squished bunch of grapes at their heads, to make the juiciest possible mess. And then I would run like hell, because they were all much bigger than I.
What, you must be wondering, does this have to do with today’s post? Not very much, except to display my intimate relationship with the grape. Grapes have a deep and fragrant beauty, and deserve appreciation for their visual appeal as much as for how they taste. I have always loved them as centerpieces, fragments escaped from a Dutch still life.
I’m not going to provide any recipes using grapes, because I have never liked anything but the original fresh Concord grape, with the skin squeezed off so the sweet insides can be slurped up. We always made our own grape juice, wine, and jam, but that is not something I would ever do again, or recommend that anyone else do. There aren’t words in the English language to adequately describe what an incredible mess it is to make your own grape juice or jam. However, if you have a recipe using grapes that you think defies this opinion, please send it to me!
Instead, here is an example of how you can arrange grapes into a late summer centerpiece. I especially like this because it’s an edible arrangement that makes a sumptuous centerpiece for a cocktail buffet, surrounded by breads, cheeses, dried fruit or fruit pastes, and nuts. Guests can pluck the grapes themselves, or you can provide a pair of grape scissors for guests to snip off clusters of grapes, and put together little plates of cocktail snacks for themselves. Grape scissors are not common anymore; they’ve gone the way of the mustard spoon, but any clean pair of scissors will do the job.
- 6 large bunches of grapes
wooden skewers cut to three inches long
half block of oasis, trimmed to fit container
several strands of ivy
Assemble items listed above.
Soak oasis in water so that it is heavy and well-grounded on pedestal. Tape oasis to pedestal
Using floral wire, wrap it around stem of one bunch of grapes, twisting wire to hold grapes firmly. Attach other end of floral wire to another bunch of grapes in same way and suspend across oasis. Repeat process and hang across other side of oasis.
Place 3-inch pieces of wooden skewers into each quarter of oasis and use as an anchor, wrapping additional bunches of grapes with floral wire and twisting around skewers to hold them firmly in place. Build the grapes upward in an asymmetrical pattern until you are pleased with the look. Allow grape bunches to hang down at different lengths around pedestal.
Tuck vines of ivy into open spaces to fill gaps.