Grapes can grow in almost every type
of climate, and while they do particularly well in regions such as the
Mediterranean (where they have long been established), they are now
cultivated on six continents. They are served as a fresh fruit, preserved
or canned in jellies and jams, dried into raisins, and crushed for making
juice or wine.
are not notable for their nutrient content, the table grapes that we
eat fresh have only low to moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals.
But some varieties are good sources of vitamin C. Their juiciness and
natural sweetness, combined with a low calorie count, make them an excellent
snack and dessert food.
The grape is one of the oldest cultivated
fruits: Fossils indicate that the cultivation, or at least the consumption,
of grapes goes back to early times, perhaps to the Neolithic era. Hieroglyphics
show that Egyptians were involved in grape and wine production, and
the early Romans were known to have developed new varieties. And, of
course, the grape is mentioned in the Old Testament as the "fruit
of the vine."
although modern equipment is employed in certain aspects of grape growing,
most viticulture is still done by hand. Grapes grow on woody vines that
are not raised from seeds, but are propagated from cuttings or grafted
onto existing rootstocks. The vines must be staked or trellised as they
grow, to support the heavy bunches of fruit. Leaves and shoots are pruned
from the vines and, depending on the variety, the flower clusters or
the berries themselves must be thinned by hand to improve the quality
of the fruit. Grapes develop sugar as they ripen, but will become no
sweeter once picked, so timing the harvest is of the utmost importance.
And to ensure that they reach the consumer in full, handsome clusters,
table grapes are harvested by hand. Grapes intended for processing can
be removed from the vines with mechanical pickers.
Grapes are thin-skinned and easily damaged. They should be displayed
no more than two bunches deep, and under refrigeration. The bunches
may be wrapped in tissue paper, or enclosed in perforated plastic bags.
Loose bunches are easiest to evaluate, but the wrapped grapes are better
protected from damage caused by customer handling.
are not picked and shipped until ripe, so unripe grapes are not usually
a problem for the consumer. You can, however, use colour as a guide
to the sweetest fruit. Green grapes should tend toward a translucent
yellow-green rather than an opaque grass green; all fruit on a bunch
of red grapes should be predominantly crimson; and blue grapes should
be darkly hued, almost black. Once they have been picked, grapes will
not ripen further: If you spot a bunch with many underdeveloped, very
green fruits, leave it in the shop.
bunch of grapes in the market should look as inviting as those in a
still-life painting: plump fruit with a silvery white "bloom,"
tightly attached to moist, flexible stems. The powdery bloom, more visible
on dark-colored grapes than on pale ones, is an important sign of freshness;
it fades with time and handling. Avoid wrinkled, sticky, or discolored
grapes on withered, brown, limp, or brittle stems.
Before storing grapes at home, remove any spoiled fruit. Place unwashed
grapes in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator. They should
keep for about a week.
Wash grapes under cold water just before serving and remove any damaged
fruit. Leave the bunch whole, or divide it into smaller branches for
serving. (This is easily done with a pair of scissors).