Long ago, I used to grow vegetables, but I don’t anymore. The problem: guilt. I felt bad for not using and preserving the overwhelming bounty of August. I just couldn’t keep up.
So, there are no edibles in our small, urban yard—except for a concord grape vine. I planted the vine to cover an arbor I’d built. I had little interest in the fruit. In a valiant effort, I tried making grape jelly one year, thinking it would make great holiday gifts. It was a big mess. Plus, I cooked the juice too long, and it caramelized, giving the jelly an unpleasant flavor. I still have three dozen jars of the stuff in the basement, right beside a case of cactus-paddle salsa, another one of my failed adventures in preserving.
The vine, though, has always been a success, covering the arbor beautifully. I’d been throwing the fruit in the compost pile, until my friend Alison found out. She scolded me and made me promise to save the fruit.
I handed the next year’s harvest over to Alison, and she made a gallon or so of beautiful, purple juice. Making the juice is easy. You just cook the grape clusters—stems and all—with a little water. Then, strain the whole mess to get the juice. The easiest technique, though, is to use a contraption called a steam juicer. It’s an ingeniously simple device that extracts plenty of juice from a mess of grapes. You can order one online.
You can, of course, preserve the juice in jars, but we keep it simple: We add sugar to taste, then freeze the juice in ice cube trays. The frozen cubes get transferred to freezer bags. Throughout the year, the cubes can be used added to spritzers, smoothies and, of course, cocktails.
We got so much delicious juice this year that we were inspired to create this cocktail:
Makes two cocktails
5 oz. Bourbon
1 oz. fresh lime juice (NO bottled lime juice or anything that comes from a plastic lime)
1 oz. Cointreau
2 oz. grape juice
Mix all the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and pour into chilled cocktail glasses.