I walk to and from the Mississippi Market in my neighborhood. On the way there, is a fence with grapes growing all over it. I have a thing for harvesting. I’m not that great at planting and maintaining, but I’m GREAT at finding, asking and harvesting food. I grabbed (casually) a bunch of the grapes on my way home and ate them. They were spectacular. Not even the same kind of fruit as what’s in the grocery store.
They were dark as blueberries (most of them, but some were big and light green, like in the store) and kind of small. They all had seeds. Lots of seeds. Each grape had at least two seeds. I crunched through the seeds most of the time instead of spitting them out. These grapes were super-duper grapey, intense and sweet-sour. I was hooked. That night I couldn’t sleep thinking about those grapes, hanging there in purpley-black bunches, alone and unloved. This is how my ancestors survived, I imagine. Noticing something tasty and being unable to function properly until they had taken advantage of it.
The next day I went back and knocked on the door. No answer from any of the 4 (count ’em 4) doorbells. I brought two bags and a pruning snippers along, just in case. Since there was no answer I stayed on the outside of the fence (bordering a parking lot) and picked a plastic grocery bag full of grapes. I made jam and vowed to share it.
The jam was great. Better than store-bought, but a great pain in the butt to make. To get all the yummy parts of the grapes and none of the seeds or skins is quite an ordeal. It involved a strainer, spoons, cheesecloth, various receptacles and turning my hands a deadly shade of purple.
One neighbor I shared the grapes with told me that grape seeds are poisonous. Maybe not as poisonous as peach pits, but poisonous nonetheless. He told me this right after I suggested he just eat the seeds like I do instead of having to spit them out. He thought spitting them was a better deal. I was doubtful, but the prospect of slowly poisoning myself nagged at me. Now, I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that grape-seed oil is sold as a health tonic of sorts.
I looked up grape seeds and nutrition. It turns out that grape seeds are VERY good for you. They may be small, but they’re chock-full of omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A and D and antioxidants. The skins are also very good for a body. They have a high concentration of reservatrol, phenolics and anthocyanins around, these are what makes red wine better for you than white. The seeds and skins of grapes aren’t poisonous, they’re very nutritious.
I went back to the house 3 more times and finally I got someone to answer the door. The renter on the first floor is a guy in his thirties, who smelled faintly of alcohol. He told me to go ahead, pick as many as I wanted. I said I’d bring back a sample of the jam. He didn’t seem that impressed, but asked if maybe I could bring him some wine. This was not in my plan.
I picked two bags this time. My next batch of jam was made by pureeing everything together after washing and drying the grapes. It’s not strict jelly like Welches. It’s crunchy and has a more intense flavor. I love it.
The biggest problem with the grapes is this: if I eat more than about 3 (and I always eat more than 3) my tongue and lips become itchy and sore. It feels like I burned my whole tongue on hot pizza-cheese. My lips got so itchy I put Benadryl on them. Worth it.
One last problem with this story, it turns out that in addition to two different kinds of grapes, there are also raspberry bushes growing inside the fence. They’re a shade of blush. I had a couple and they were wonderful. I don’t want to be a pest, but they seem like they might be going to waste…