Concord, Massachusetts, is a gifted progenitor, spawning revolutions, literary titans (Thoreau, Hawthorne), and some nice eponymous grapevines. Very nice, in fact: since their 19th-century introduction, Concord grapes have become the country’s foremost grape commodity, outselling all other varieties combined. Without them, Welch’s would just mean Raquel, Passover would be a lot drier, and PB would be bereft of its J, a wallflower doomed to pantry Siberia.
But thankfully, in 1849, a Massachusetts farmer developed a hybrid from native grape varieties, and the result became the grape that launched a thousand (trillion?) sandwiches and Seders. In 1869, New Jersey dentist Thomas Welch discovered a method of pasteurizing grape juice so that fermentation was stopped. We’ve been drinking his non-alcoholic concoction ever since. And no wonder: Concord grapes are highly aromatic, deeply flavored, and very robust. More than 400,000 tons of them are harvested each September, with New York’s production second only to that of Washington State. Just follow your nose at the greenmarket; their floral scent is as alluring as their radiant purple skins.
What’s inside those skins is rapturous. Pastry Chef Alex Grunert of Blue Hill at Stone Barns (630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills 914-366-9600; bluehillfarm.com) is an ardent fan. “I love their creamy texture and sexy perfume-like fragrance. And when I eat them fresh, I like the crunch of their seeds.” He chomps on grape seeds? “People don’t know what they’re missing,” he raves.
At Blue Hill, the grapes (minus seeds) find their way into a multitude of savory and sweet dishes. Grunert purées them into granitas and ice creams, thickens them into jelly-like cubes to accompany pear sorbet, and is contemplating a pre-dessert of crunchy spelt offset with Concord-grape sorbet. “There are so many possibilities,” he says. “The grapes have a unique color with a great texture and acid balance.”
And you don’t have to book a table to indulge. Blue Hill’s bar blends Concord grape juice into cocktails, and its café has jars of house-made jam and jelly to take home. No disrespect to Welch’s, but your peanut butter will never have it so good.
Concord Grape Sorbet and Granita
Courtesy of Alex Grunert
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 cup Concord grapes
2 Tbsp sugar
Combine grapes and sugar and blend briefly with immersion blender or pulse in food processor, careful not to break grape seeds (they are bitter). Cover purée with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Transfer to saucepan, bring to boil, blend or pulse briefly again, and strain into bowl. Combine 1 cup purée with 4 Tbsp simple syrup (see recipe below), and process in ice-cream maker.
2 cups (16 oz) Concord grape purée
(see recipe below)
½ cup water
â…“ cup simple syrup (see recipe below) 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Combine ingredients in large bowl and put in freezer overnight, or until ready to use. Transfer to refrigerator for 20 minutes, or until softened. Scrape with fork into serving bowls; granita should be a bright purple color.
FOR SIMPLE SYRUP:
1 cup water 1 cup sugar
Combine ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature.
FOR CONCORD GRAPE PURÉE:
4 lbs Concord grapes
½ cup sugar
Rinse and dry grapes. Combine with sugar and blend briefly with immersion blender or pulse in food processor, careful not to break seeds. Cover purée with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Transfer to saucepan, bring to boil, blend or pulse briefly again, and strain into bowl. Use for sorbet or cold fruit soup.