Friday, October 21, 2011

The Hearthstone’s Pickled Grapes: “Especially Nice for the Tea-Table”

Today I’m returning to a very old book we picked up at a used bookstore: The Hearthstone; or, Life at Home: A Household Manual [etc., etc.], by Laura C. Holloway (Philadelphia: Bradley, Garretson, 1883, yes, 1883).

Among the “Cookery Recipes” in this volume are several formulas for various types of pickles. Obviously, in the 1880s, if you wanted to have anything remotely resembling a fruit or vegetable in the wintertime (not counting potatoes, cabbage, and apples), you needed to preserve it before it went “south.”

I try to imagine what winter dinners were like before refrigeration, advanced greenhouses, and rapid transcontinental shipping: Meat ’n potatoes ’n cabbage. Potatoes ’n cabbage ’n meat. Cabbage ’n meat ’n potatoes . . .

So when Mom would have you go to the basement and fetch up a jar of pickled peaches, zesty gherkins, or zippy tomato catsup, it would turn the mundane into something you could, well, relish.

I encourage you to check out the recipes in this book. You can find digital copies of it online. Some of its pickle recipes today seem a tad unusual—including pickled nasturtiums, pickled damsons, cucumber catsup, and walnut catsup!

But the one we’re talking about today is on page 511: “Pickled grapes.” With my glorious abundance of Concords, I have plenty to experiment with. So I tried it this week!

No, it’s not as bad as you think—it’s not like dill or sour pickles. It’s more along the lines of “pickled peaches”—flavored with cloves and cinnamon, and brightened with apple cider vinegar—except with grapes, it acquires the texture of a sauce or jelly. It makes a great relish for any kind of dry meat that harmonizes with sweet flavors. It would be great on turkey, I think, or with pork chops or white-meat chicken.

Hey, maybe you could make this for Thanksgiving! The deep purple hue and the silky texture would be an interesting alternative to the usual ol’ cranberry-stuff you usually serve.

And it would be good on biscuits, and all of that kind of stuff, too. —Oatmeal? Why not!

And it’s good on crackers!

Here’s the recipe. I quartered it (those quantities and my notes appear after the official, full recipe).

Be careful not to overcook it; this recipe relies on the natural pectin in the grapes. If your grapes don’t quite “jelly,” don’t sweat it. It’s just fine when it’s on the runny side.

Here we go, verbatim from the book:

Pickled Grapes.—Seven pounds of ripe grapes, picked from the stems, and boiled until the skins will pass through a colander; three and a-half pounds of sugar, one-half pint of vinegar, one ounce each of whole cloves, cinnamon and allspice; all boiled together until it jellies. Put in glasses, and turn out in form. These pickles are especially nice for the tea-table.

But now, here’s how I did it: I processed the grapes in my usual way: I measured the cupfuls of grapes first; slipped off and reserved the skins; boiled the insides until soft and passed them through a food mill to deseed them. To ensure a fairly smooth texture, I chopped up the skins before reuniting them with the grape “guts.” Then I proceeded as the recipe says, cooking all ingredients together. I didn’t can (preserve) it; I’m just keeping it in the fridge. Depending on how much you cook it down, the quartered version will make no more than a few pints. Mine made about a pint and a half.

Here are the quantities for my quartered version:

3 cups Concord grapes (about 1.75 lbs.), processed as above to remove seeds
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. cloves (I used powdered)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice

I wish I could give you some to try, because I think it's delicious. But maybe that's "just me." So when you try this recipe, make sure you write and tell me what you think!

Addendum: A few days after posting this, I found a similar recipe in another old cookbook, and it was recommended specifically as a relish for venison. Click here for my post on it.


Anonymous said...

Pickelin's fer onions, not grapes.

Julianna Schroeder said...

I suppose it's a matter of semantics. "Pickling" in a broad sense refers to any kind of preserving, I guess, and I've heard "spiced peaches" called "pickled peaches." They're very similar to this recipe in flavor: sweet fruit + acid (vinegar) + spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc.).

It's the same situation as when you have two kinds of "confit"--those incredible French fruit confit (we'd call them candied fruits) as well as duck confit (which is awesome but nothing like candied fruit).

Or! Trying to define a "cake": cupcake, sheet cake, pancake, johnny cake, coffee cake . . .

If it makes you feel better, there's a recipe for pickled onions in that book, too!


Anonymous said...

sounds GOOD! im gonna try it! thanks!

Julianna Schroeder said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Anon! The word "pickled" is a little misleading, now that everyone associates "picklin'" with garlic and dill. But pickled *peaches* are one of the pinnacles of traditional American home cooking, and these pickled grapes are in the same league with them. The vinegar serves to intensify the flavors--to turn up the volume!

Thanks again for the comment,