Having been neglected for years, our Concord grape vines proved their wild origins by escaping their fallen pergola to climb into a nearby tree. There, they still produce fruit, though very little of it looks as pretty as the clusters portrayed in stock photos.
The Grape Heard Round the World
As its name suggests, the Concord grape originated in Concord, MA, home also of the "shot heard round the world." There, Ephraim Bull, a neighbor of the Alcotts and Nathaniel Hawthorne, experimented with thousands of seedlings—probably descended from a cross between the wild fox grape (Vitis labrusca) and 'Catawba'—before springing his dark grape on the world in 1853.
It proved to be much more hardy than imported European cultivars, and a dentist named Welch later would make its juice the quintessential grape juice. Actually it was the only commercial unfermented grape juice at the time he began selling it!
Back in our childhood days, we farm kids enjoyed eating the by-then-heirloom Concords, even though that could be tricky due to their seedy interiors. So we generally swallowed the insides of the grapes and chewed up their tart-sweet skins. Of course, our digestive systems were more resilient back then!
Bringing Things to a Boil
These days I sometimes make juice, of which Concords provide the prettiest, purple-est, most antioxidant-rich sort. That deep, dark hue has its drawbacks, though, since it typically stains everything with which it comes into contact—including fingers. So, if you want to make your own, I would recommend that you wear disposable gloves while stripping the grapes from their stems and boil them in a stainless steel stock pan. Although the pan might take on a purplish cast, that generally wears off fairly quickly on steel.
You also will need plenty of grapes, whether Concords or another cultivar, since my 3-gallon bucket of them produced only a little more than 2 quarts of juice. First, you need to remove all the grapes from their stems, discarding those stems and any shriveled or unripe fruits. After placing the good ones in the pan, you can crush them a bit with a potato masher and add enough water to barely cover them.
Bring the grapes to a boil and simmer them for ten minutes to get their juices flowing. I have a large old funnel-shaped colander which I used to strain them, placing it in the top of a pitcher and pressing the grapes against the colander’s sides with an oversized wooden pestle so that the juice trickled out into the pitcher.
Straining for Perfection
If you don’t like sediment in your juice, I would suggest that you line your colander with a couple layers of cheesecloth and perhaps strain the juice more than once. You then can decide whether or not you want to sweeten it. Concord juice can be a bit tart, so I added 3/4 cup of sugar to my 2 quarts of juice.
If you prefer yours less intensely flavored, you also can dilute it with water. Since I didn’t have enough to can, I froze a quart of the juice, being careful to leave plenty of head space in the jar, and we drank the rest right away.
Should you have enough extra grapes, you might want to try making jelly or a pie too, though the necessity of extracting the seeds while saving the skins and pulp makes Concord pie labor intensive. But, then, the development of this particular cultivar was labor intensive too!
The epitaph of the breeder who did all the work reads "He sowed; others reaped." Earlier residents of Concord helped secure freedom for the common man while Ephraim Bull came up with a grape that the common man could appreciate--and grow!
Photos: The photos included are my own.