Is there anything more fragrant and lovely in the fall than an arbor full of Concord grapes? Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the picking of them first with my sister at a lovely farm in Hunting Valley and then in the old abandoned orchard in the back behind my store where the vines tangoed wildly with the overgrown honeysuckle and lilac bushes that had been allowed to flourish for years without interference. Some of the best memories that I share with my son are of the many NEOTA days that we spent together. There was never any question. As soon as that free friday in October rolled around we'd head off to one of the many "pick your own" orchards in the area and we'd go hunting for indian corn, pumpkins and grapes. We'd take along a picnic and stuff more grapes then we could possibly eat at once into our mouths. Goddess, there is nothing like the smell of them. They are sweet and fruity but manage to be musky and sensual, all at the same time.
Alex was home-schooled so the year he got his temporary license, we drove out to the farm to pick them together but then we went to Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland which is where I taught him to drive. Lakeview is one of the oldest cemeteries in the midwest and is a vast swath of acreage filled with magnificent old gravestones, tombs and mausoleums. It is also home to an arboretum so the seasonal displays are gorgeous. It is also the best place in the city to teach a kid to drive; filled with hills and steep turns everywhere there's no better place. Accompanied by our fresh grapes, cheese sandwiches, cameras and Anne Rices "The Vampire Lestat" , we spent one whole season perfecting the art of of driving. By the time the leaves had all fallen and the first snow was dusting the headstones Alex had turned into a very dashing young motorist.
I think that in the above pic he's about 15 ,but now Alex is grown and lives in Southern California. We still share the love of those grapes and that gorgeous cemetery. It may seem weird , but it's our place. If he's got something he's thinking about we'll meet up there on the hill that overlooks the entire city to talk.
He grabbed my heart when he texted me last week from San Diego..."Mom, I just bought some Concord grapes and they made me think of you and Anne Rice...I'm glad she's not crazy any more". Those of you who are diehard Anne Rice fans will know what he means.....
So when last week I came across a recipe for Concord Grape Sorbet I immediately thought of him. He'll be home in October for a few days so I'm planning on going grape picking and pumpkin hunting and I can't wait to serve him this sorbet. True to form because I can't leave anything alone I completely changed the recipe. It's absolutely luscious, full of grape-iness and my sister the Goddess of Chocolate who's making her own batch using the original recipe has suggested that we enhance it with crushed Reeses peanut butter cups. At first I thought she was nuts, but now I can't get the thought of that out of my mind. She's such a bad influence!
All that I did to make this sorbet was take two dry quarts of fresh Concord grapes off of their stems and put them into my vitamix with the juice of one lemon, about 1 cup of fresh anise hyssop (flowers and leaves) and 1/2 cup of honey ,a pinch of sea salt and 1/4 of a cup of agave nectar. Then I added 1 and a half cups of spring water and blended on high for about 1 minute until everything was completely pulverized and lusciously purple. At that point I put in the refrigerator and let it steep overnight! In the morning I strained the whole thing through a chinoise and put the remaining juice mixture (about 4 cups) into my ice cream maker. 25 minutes later I had the most incredibly fragrant and delicious grape sorbet. I wish that I could say that I slaved over the whole thing for hours but I didn't. The grapes are so perfect right now that it doesn't take much to bring out their flavor. If you don't have hyssop then try the toasted fennel seed and fennel pollen like my sister is using. I'm sure that it will be wonderful and whatever you do, don't forget the Reeses!