How far back can you trace your family? 100 years? 200 years? Longer? Well, the grapes you purchase today may have us all beat.
Most researchers believe grapes are at least 65 million years old and some of today’s grape varieties are direct descendants of those first grapes. The oldest cultivated grapevine in the country grows in North Carolina. The Mothervine in the town of Manteo, on Roanoke Island, is a 400 year old Scuppernong vine.
That’s a long time for one of the most popular fruits – well, berries, actually – to be enjoyed around the world!
The word “berry” actually meant “grape” in Old English. Thank you, Dictionary.com, for schooling us on the botanical background. Grapes are defined as a type of berry because each fruit (or grape) comes from a single flower on the grapevine.
And, while most of us may be able to list green grapes, red grapes, Concord grapes and Muscadet grapes among those we know, there are more than 8,000 varieties of grapes. People have been cultivating them for about 8,000 years.
Grapes are good and good for you. They contain more than 25 percent of the vitamin C you need in a day. Plus, grapes are high in vitamin K which the body needs for blood clotting, helping wounds to heal. There is some evidence that vitamin K may help keep bones healthy, too. They are a good source of fiber and relatively low in calories.
To wrap up our grape lesson, the United States Department of Agriculture says the United States is the world’s largest importer of grapes for eating, importing 568,000 tons of table grapes in 2012. Furthermore, people are eating more grapes now than ever. In 1970, the average person ate just under 3 pounds of grapes. By 2009, that same average person was enjoying almost 8 pounds of grapes a year.
Eating fresh grapes isn’t the only way to enjoy them. Grapes are used for grape juice, grape jelly and jam, and wine. They are dried to make raisins.
We’ve all had grapes in fruit salads, but there are dozens of recipes from salads to desserts that incorporate grapes in dishes both sweet and savory.
To bring out the sweet concentrated flavor of red grapes, try the Roasted Grape recipe. Simple to do, the resulting jammy grapes are a little change of pace on the traditional PB&J. Smear a little mascarpone or cream cheese on crostini and top with roasted cherries for a sweet treat on a buffet.
Focaccia is having a bit of a moment right now, so give this simple recipe for Focaccia with Rosemary and Grapes a try. Using store-bought pizza dough, it’s quick and easy. Of course, if you’re still powering through with your sourdough starter or pandemic bread frenzy, you can make your own yeasty dough.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest a couple of salad recipes. We’re starting with a berry salad that lets the grapes mingle with their blueberry, raspberry and strawberry cousins. The yogurt dressing is spooned over the top of the berry mixture. While you can serve it as a salad, it could be a great dessert topping on shortcakes or pound cake, too.
The Endive, Walnut and Grape Salad is a bright, fresh salad from Norway. It is often served in the Nordic Christmas Feast and is a wonderful contrast to the rich dishes on the menu.
The Panini with Sausage, Grapes and Soft Cheese is a quick meal plan for a change of pace. Cut a baguette in 6-inch lengths, cook up Italian sausage and spread the cheese, grapes and sausage on the bread for a tasty lunch or dinner.
Heading for dessert, consider the Red Grape, Polenta and Olive Oil Cake. This rustic Italian-style cake is fragrant from olive oil and juicy with roasted grapes.
Somewhere along the line, you might get thirsty. The White Wine Sangria is light and refreshing. Please note, you should mix this tasty beverage up at least one hour and as long as 24 before serving.
Next time you pick up a bag of grapes or wonder what to do with the ones you already have, give these recipes a try. You’ll be grape-ful you did!