If Lucy Van Pelt were to analyze my passion for Concord grapes, she would simplify matters with a mere 5 cent consultation. Clearly, I am unable to relinquish a belief firmly rooted in my childhood that purple is an integral part of the food pyramid. Lucy would point out specifics: Welch’s grape juice and jelly, purple Tootsie Pops, Pixy Stix and Sweet-Tarts. Cello-wrapped Charms Hard Candies and of course, the Purple Cow; a scoop of vanilla ice cream bobbing precariously atop a glass of grape soda. Dr. Van Pelt would agree that my purple sweet tooth was indeed a result of being raised in the 1960s and then she would wrap up the session with a zinger. “In addition to your inability to let go of your grape past, you refuse to acknowledge why you associate grapes with good times.” I pause to reflect. Lucy continues, “Season 5, Episode 23.” Of course. I Love Lucy; the famous grape stomping episode.
It would be a stretch to suggest that my recent visit to the Finger Lakes found me barefoot, stomping on grapes. I can report with accuracy however, that I enjoyed more than my fair share of Concords, Sheridan and Delaware “Champagne” grapes. My gracious hosts, Jane and Roger of Tabora Vineyards (formerly of Tabora Orchards, my old workplace) invited me to join them as they picked grapes. But first, lunch. Amidst a breathtaking landscape of green and grape beneath a canopy of early autumn leaves, Jane served her classic deep-dish quiche. We debated the virtues of blind-baking the butter rich crust. Roger heralded us in the direction of the vineyard, affording a birds-eye view of the rolling acreage. The fragrance in the air was distinctly, purple. At 2 o’clock we assembled to gather the grapes. A far cry from collecting a few quarts in a corrugated basket, this entailed riding alongside two wooden bins each with a capacity of 1500 pounds. A mechanized grape picker combed the fields of the 400+ acre vineyard. Wrangling the grapes gives you an entirely new appreciation for every cluster of grapes casually lounging in fruit bowls atop kitchen tables.
Observing the work of a farmer is both dazzling and humbling. I am reminded of this tonight as I pinch pounds of Concord grapes, separating skins from pulp, simmering the fruit and discarding the tiny pits. Reuniting pulp with skins, sugar, a splash of lemon and cornstarch creates a thick, jammy filling, the color of midnight. There is nothing shy about the flavor, it is an explosive taste, as vivid as October’s color palate.
Roger’s success as both farmer and engineer is as far-reaching as his vineyard. He taught me the art of bakery production and efficiency; skills I continue to use 20 years since asking him for a sifter to prepare a cookie recipe. He responded by preparing a ‘small’ batch of cookie dough in a 60 quart Hobart mixer.
At this stage of the game, Roger could certainly retire but that’s not on his agenda. He is very clear when explaining his idea of retirement; it is filling his days with what he enjoys. Watching him maneuver tons of grapes from field to forklift to flatbed, it is clear retirement suits him just fine.
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Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm