Living in the Okanagan, it’s almost impossible not to notice fall is harvest season.
I don’t know about you but I come from a generation that can’t bear to see food not used. Combine that with being a gourmand and married to a chef, and you’ve got one busy kitchen here at Rabbit Hollow.
We are blessed to have fruit trees on our property, so usually I make jams and chutneys amidst harvesting tomatoes, peppers and zucchini out of the garden. This year we were away in September, so my pantry stock must get us through till next year for some items. But I was thrilled to find that in addition to my herbs for drying, I will have grapes to harvest again this year.
Our three vines produce table grapes—two of them being the usual Concorde type which make wonderful juice or jelly. Hubbie uses our spiffy old-school steamer/juicer to make unfiltered, pasteurized grape, apple and pear juice. (You can find the juicer at Lee Valley or, if you’re lucky like us, at a thrift store.) Using said juice to make grape jelly gives you the best peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches in the world.
The last vine was planted at the back, along the garden wall, and gives the feel of a Tuscan villa – at least in that corner of the yard. It is a Pink Gilbert, or so the fellow told me when I bought the cutting at a farmer’s market years ago.
The grapes are a pale purple, and the taste is, well, divine. They are seedless, so easier to eat fresh than the Concordes. Ten years after planting that cutting, our vine produces a bountiful harvest that far exceeds my capacity for fresh consumption.
Mother Nature gave me the idea of how to preserve this beautiful fruit. About three years in, as the size of the harvest was starting to overwhelm me, I noticed some bunches had dried berries on them. I tried a few. As the understated British phrase goes, “not horrible.” (Translation: Bloody fantastic.)
I have a dehydrator that I use for making prunes from our plums and for drying peach slices. It also works well to make dried sweet potato chips for our Chocolate Lab, Freyja (even the four-legged folks get healthy snacks at Rabbit Hollow.) I figured, why not try raisins?
Well, it’s not a great business idea, but they do taste amazing. It takes about 48 hours of dehydrating to turn grapes into raisins, so the cost of electricity rules out much profit when you also have all that hand-picking, washing, de-stemming. You get the idea.
But once I tasted them, I felt as if I was a pioneer discovering some new way of preserving food for a long, cold winter. I was so grateful to capture that flavour.
Why should you care that some obsessed gourmand is making her own raisins? You don’t need to, but I’m hoping it might inspire you to think about how you can use the food you have in new ways, so it doesn’t go to waste. I’m also hoping you might discover some new flavours for yourself.
Here are just a few simpler ideas than homemade raisins to get you started:
• Use those bits of root veggies lingering in the crisper to make a stock or soup. You can even freeze many of them in a freezer bag till you have enough, if need be. Zucchini can be pre-grated for a loaf recipe and frozen.
• Herbs you buy but don’t use when you open the package can be dried (those with strong stems like rosemary and thyme), or frozen once they are whizzed into a paste with some olive oil and stored flat in a freezer bag. Tomato paste can be frozen the same way.
• When you buy that whole cooked chicken, peel off the meat, and store it separately. If you don’t have time to make a stock from the bones immediately, freeze them. It’s a great way to be prepared for making gravy during the holidays.
I know Thanksgiving has past, but I am hoping that gratitude is something we can hold onto year-round. Being grateful for our food seems like a good place to start.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.