Start talking about concord grapes and thoughts often quickly turn to jelly, juice and Jewish wine. Products made with concord grapes often have an inky tint so dark that they are sometimes mistaken for containing artificial colorings.
Helped by a strong resistance to cold weather, the concord grows abundantly throughout the Northeast and has a long storied tradition in spite of its less than optimal table grape characteristics. Decades ago people with last names like Welch, Shapiro and Manischewitz build tremendous family businesses on the back of this lowly grape, but these days some in the culinary world see a place for its heavy, viscous flavor in their quiver of arrows.
Sometimes it is the usual suspects who wish to cook with everything and anything they can find that has been grown or foraged and on sale at a farmer’s market. Other times ingredients are revived a bit by those who are looking to draw a connection to their restaurants’ location and the inhabitants of years past. About a year ago “The Chef” series in the New York Times featured some concord grape recipes Pierre Reboul was serving at THOR down on Rivington Street. Given that Shapiro’s kosher wine facility was just one block away, at first blush it would seem that the proximity gimmick was at play. Turns out to be not so much the case, instead the he was attracted to the fact that it “tasted fake, like the grape soda you drank as a kid” and the allure of the concord was reborn yet again.
If you are not so inclined to run through some of the more involved recipes that Mr. Reboul presents, just try the following basic instructions to make concord grape juice. Once made, the juice can be reduced and used on pancakes, drizzled over ice cream or made into a simple granita as was mentioned in this column for nectarines a few months back. As usual, feel free to just eat them as is, they are quite nice for our taste buds.
If you have a food mill, run the grapes through it, if you do not coarsely chop in a food processor and strain through a fine sieve or strainer. You will want to process the mixture a second time with a strainer/sieve lined with a clean kitchen towel (it will be ruined afterward BTW), a coffee filter, or a double layer of bounty paper towels. If not using immediately deploy the restaurant kitchen trick of cracking a vitamin C tablet (powered kind) into the liquid to preserve color. This also works well for many other vegetable and fruit purees.
Speaking of THOR, although you can no longer sample the Gutenbrunner influence there other members of the family of restaurants have many fine chefs producing tasty treats on a daily basis. Gothamist especially likes the dessert items that Daniel Keener is turning out over at Wallse and Cafe Sabarsky and hearty plates that Jason Lee is producing down at Blaue Gans