In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

grape harvest

Elizabeth Hyde planted our grape vine, long ago: a concord, I think. After Elizabeth died the house and the land more or less went to sleep, but those vines continued to grow along the ground up where she had her big vegetable garden. Skipper, who always kept an eye on things, built a wooden fence around them to keep the sheep and deer from plundering them. So when we first arrived, the vines lay tangled and forlorn inside and over the remains of a weather-beaten wooden fence.

After our first year we took down that old fence and included the vines inside the new vegetable garden. Ambitiously, Greg built an arbour for the grapes. We pruned them and trained them, sort of. But there was only so much we could do besides tearing out the single huge trunk and starting over. Which I wasn't that interested in. The arbour was pretty enough in the garden's second summer, with its vines growing this way and that and its translucent leafy canopy. Last year we got maybe a cup of grapes, and Greg made one little jar of grape jam. I figured we had built the arbour for the benefit of our bird friends, and I left it at that.

This year I paid no attention to the grape arbour. As summer went on some vines got too long and started hitting me in the face as I walked into the garden, so I whacked them off. But that was as far as any pruning went. Gradually, though, I started noticing that there were clusters of grapes forming here and there. Oh well, I thought, the birds will be happy this year. I did not get my hopes up. I barely looked at the arbour. After all, I had collards to consider, and chard, and beans. Important things.
Quietly, behind my back, the grapes grew.
This past week was apple harvesting time around here. The big-time action was all in the apple trees, but in the middle of the week Greg mentioned that he thought the grapes were ready to harvest, too.
So I picked the grapes, about four and a half gallons once I took them off their stems.

Though we should have been putting two and two together all along, the bounty of the grape arbour caught us off guard. I had thought that the birds would swoop in at the last and stage a gigantic avian grape-fest, and that whatever we got would be an afterthought, their leftovers. But now instead we had oh-so-much of a good thing, requiring immediate attention. The rushing torrent of apple momentum would have to wait.

Jam was what we aspired to, not merely jelly. Not something smooth and simple and jelly-like, but something dense, more complex. But it turns out that jam -- as opposed to jelly -- is complicated to make. There are many time-consuming steps. These are the ones I did: taking the grapes off the stems, then separating the pulp from the skin of each and every grape. So that you end up with a pot of pulp, called must, and a separate bowl of skins. As far as I know there is no machine for doing this, or at least not at our house.

After that I turned everything over to Greg. I can't even tell you how many steps came next, since I stayed out of the kitchen. There were many, many steps, involving rarely-used and mysterious equipment and supplies. All evening, until midnight, the kitchen was filled with the purple aroma of grapes and the reading out loud of snippets from various recipes pulled off the Internet, which sounded like nothing so much as the muttering of charms and spells.
This morning I came downstairs to discover magic jars of grape jam, more than I can count, a rich dark colour amidst the brightness of the apple harvest.


Hazel said...

Mmmm...I hope you had a little pre-taste before it was all jarred up. Just imagine the rich taste with your homemade bread!

Piecefulafternoon said...

So much work - but what a reward!! And now the apples? Do you make cider? Pies? Applesauce?

Hazel said...

The grape jam looks so delicious! You are very lucky that Greg is such a versatile cook. I'm just sorry we visited too early for cider and jam! ;-)

Mickey (Michel) Johnson said...

how wonderful! i love how this heritage fruit is gifting you with its bounty after you gave it some tender care. i love grape jelly and yours looks to be an exceptional batch!