Concord Grape Shrub and Cocktail
One of my favorite things, or some of my favorite things, I should say, are Concord grapes. I grew up eating them as a snack, as well as in jams, jellies, and even desserts. And if anyone else is old enough, raise your hand if you remember the Welch’s Concord grape juice stand at the original Disneyland in Anaheim. Who cared about those chirpy wooden kids singing about how small the world was? That grape juice was my E ticket.
Concord grapes were prolific when I was a youngster in New England, and every time I go back in the Fall, I try to find a basket of them, to remind me of how good they are.
Recently I was at the excellent greenmarket in New York City and saw tables loaded up with Concord grapes, and bought a few baskets. As usual, I ended up with way too much fruit (I can never help myself, whether I’m at home or on the road), and needed to do something with my overload. It was tough figuring out what to make with them in a compact New York City kitchen, until I remembered shrubs.
When I shared my basket (of grapes!) online, a few readers noted that it was hard to find Concord grapes nowadays. I suspect that’s because they have seeds, and few want to fuss with plucking, or spitting, them out. It’s a tedious project for sure, but the great thing about making a shrub, like making Grape Sorbet, is that you don’t need to remove the seeds.
I trick I learned a few years ago to remove the stems is to put the bunches of grapes in a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook, and turning it on low speed. The hook will remove the stems for you, although this recipe only uses a pound of grapes, so if you don’t have a stand mixer – or if you don’t want another dish to wash – you can use your hands. The seeds get strained out later, using your trusty food mill or with a mesh strainer.
I have seen seedless varieties of Concord grapes, including ones crossed with Thompson seedless grapes, but it’s hard to replicate the flavor of full-flavored Concord grapes, which has been described as “foxy.”
Concords are a native American grape and while the French did use American grape rootstock after the phylloxera infestation in the mid-19th century, to rebuild their devastated vineyards, Concord grapes aren’t available in France. You could make this shrub with another flavorful purple grape, such as Muscat or a wine grape if you live near a wine-growing region.
Speaking of being inventive, like the French got their vineyards back on track, shrubs are vinegar-based and were originally devised as a way to preserve fruit. I’ve made them with cranberries, a fruit that appears fleetingly in France, for a price, usually around Thanksgiving (for les Américains), which was great to have as a base for a non-alcoholic drink, as well as a cocktail, for those who imbibe. It’s a good way to use, and preserve, something precious, like cranberries or Concords.
If you’re fortunate enough to get Concord grapes, you’ll just new a few bunches of them for this lively, and flavorful shrub. I’ve given instructions and recipes for the shrub, and a cocktail that you can toast your liquid purple bounty with. À votre santé!