This juice goes way, way back

mfpreservesI’m not the first person to say that this year has been a banner one for local, even backyard and roadside, fruit production.

We started in late June with black raspberries (black caps) and marked the season’s progress with an abundance of wild fruit and berries, week by week, to apple  picking time. So many apples!! So much cider and applesauce and apple butter!

The final fling at my house: the Concord grapes that, as far as we can tell, have made parallel tangles of vines and leaves down the side yard since at least  the late 1800s, when the Boyden Farm was pictured in the 1878 Evers History of St. Lawrence County.

From the Evers History of St. Lawrence County. You can see the double row of grape vines in front of the barn, next to the house. The barn is still there, too!

From the Evers History of St. Lawrence County. You can see the double row of grape vines in front of the barn, next to the house. The barn is still there, too!

 

They were tidy then, but in the succeeding 140 years, the vines have had more downs than ups. The house was a hired man’s residence for most of the 1900s, then vacant for 20 years or so till the early ‘70s, when new college-kid age owners picked the vines up and strung them on plain fencing wire.

Gradually, the fence  collapsed again under the weight of the overgrown vines.

They spilled across the field and up neighboring trees. Occasionally, they'd produce a enough grapes to make a little juice.

The pergola at midsummer.

The pergola at midsummer.

Then a few years ago we picked up a section of the vines (again) and set them up with a new pergola and split rail fence. And I started actually trying to take care of them, pulling out old dead stuff and doing a little pruning.

 

We were just thinking of a little spot to enjoy some shade in the hot afternoons. But the grapes REALLY like being up high, stretching up and over the cross-pieces. And this year, a bonanza of fragrant blossoms.

So many blossoms, and so fragrant.

So many blossoms, and so fragrant.

In late September we were hoping for enough warm weather for the slow ripening to finish up.

In late September we were hoping for enough warm weather for the slow ripening to finish up.

By two weeks ago, after a good hard frost it was time…so many grapes! We picked a couple bushels. We stripped the bunches, heated them gently:

Heat to 190F and keep the heat on for 10 or so minutes...no boiling!

Heat to 190F and keep the heat on for 10 or so minutes…no boiling!

The next step can be really messy, but we have our systems in place.

The next step can be really messy, but we have our systems in place.

And, voila! Juice (and some conserve, too)!

And, just to give an idea of how many grapes we didn't get to… the last of the grapes in the first of our snow.

The deer got lots of grapes on the lower vines. We're betting squirrels and birds enjoy these.

The deer got lots of grapes on the lower vines. We're betting squirrels and birds enjoy these.

Now the jars are tucked away in the pantry. It's cliche-ish, to say the syrupy-sweet juice will bring back a little of the summer heat and the satisfaction of the fall work when we open one in mid-winter, but it's true.

But far beyond that, every time I struggle to tame them, or taste one for ripeness, these grapes take me back in time. They give proof of persistence through ALL the seasons, all the extremes of weather, and a sense of continuity I find humbling and comforting.

5 Comments

  1. The real secret to raising grapes…is to do a LOT of pruning. I grew up with Concords in Ohio, and the most productive years were always those that followed heavy pruning. I'm hoping to plant grapes this season here in Potsdam, and since you have a proven hardy strain……
    Layering, I think it's called

    • You're welcome to come get some for planting, then you can advise me on pruning!

      • please include me on the list for planting stock.

  2. Fantastic pergola! When we were kids there was a similar tangle behind the shed of old vines rumored to date back to the 1800s: our dad cut them all down, promising they'd come back stronger than ever, just like the raspberry canes which he also cut down. Neither ever came back, and though he's become a much more skilled gardener over the years, we always like to remind him of his Grim Reaper phase.

  3. Thanks for your words and photos. Growing fruit is a major love

    of my life. My memories of sitting under my Grandmother's Concord

    arbor are strong ones. Her juice was always part of our holidays.

    And yes, I keep my grapes pruned and high, with success.