If you were to make a checklist of all the wonderful qualities one fruit could possess—sweet, tart, tasty raw or cooked, fresh or dried, with delicious juice, various flavors, edible leaves, and nutritious oil—the grape and it’s vine would check every box. It must be for that reason that no other fruit, no matter how glamorous its reputation, is grown and produced as much as the grape.
The cultivation of grapes dates back to the beginning of civilization on the Asian and European continents. In North America, when the Europeans arrived, they found almost countless varieties of wild grapes, many found nowhere else in the world. Most of those wild grapes were considered inedible by the early colonists, although they were an elemental food of the Native Americans. Soon, however, the wild American grapes became hybridized with European varieties, and grapes became more widely consumed. One of the notable varieties is the super-delicious Concord grape.
The grapevine has a presence across the globe in many cultures and the fruit and the plant are used in a wide variety of ways. From the beginning, wine was made from grapes, but it wasn’t long before it was discovered that grapes were wonderful dried, and there is even mention of raisins in the Bible.
The practice of making oil from the seeds is also ancient and appears to have begun soon after cultivation began. The same is true for the leaves, which are eaten fresh or brined, and a version of stuffed grape leaves is not only integral to Greek cuisine, but found in the foods of almost every Middle Eastern country.
The fruit itself is a good source of Vitamins A and C, and antioxidants. The leaves are especially high in Vitamin A and minerals, while the oil or extract from the seeds also contains antioxidants that may be helpful in lowering cholesterol and fighting heart disease. Keep grapes in the coldest part of the refrigerator wrapped in a perforated plastic bag to allow excess moisture to escape. Unfortunately, grapes won't ripen after they've been picked.
When it comes to cooking with grapes, most people might think of jams or pies, but even sweet grapes add an interesting dimension of flavor to savory dishes, and the more bitter grapes, such as some of the wild varieties like the Texas Muscadine, take on a sweetness when sautéed or roasted. If you’ve never tried grape leaves you are missing a tangy treat. They are the perfect receptacle for a wide variety of stuffings. Try this recipe for BACON SEARED PORK CHOPS WITH GRAPE SAUCE which uses grapes in a uniquely savory way!
Bacon Seared Pork Chops with Grape Sauce
Yield: 4 servings
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
4 pork chops, bone out, 1 1/2 inches thick
2 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups seedless red grapes
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons chopped green onions, white and green parts, for garnish
Season the chops on both sides with the salt, pepper and ½ tablespoon of the poultry seasoning and let them sit outside the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to allow them to come to room temperature.
Add the bacon and 1 tablespoon of the oil to a saute pan and cook over medium-high heat. Once the bacon starts to render some fat, about 2 minutes, add the grapes. Allow the bacon to continue to render and get crispy and the grapes to split open and release their juices, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove half of the bacon and grapes and set aside.
Add the flour and the remaining ½ tablespoon of the poultry seasoning to the bacon fat and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and the Worcestershire sauce. Turn the temperature to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by half and thickens. Stir in the butter, cover the pan, and set aside.
To a cast-iron pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the seasoned pork chops to the pan and sear. Cook the pork for 6 to 7 minutes on the first side. Flip over and reduce the heat. Cook for another 6 to 7 minutes until cooked through. Remove the pork from the pan and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes prior to serving.
When ready to serve, add in the reserved grapes and bacon to the sauce. Taste and re-season if needed with additional salt and poultry seasoning. Pour over the chops and garnish with green onions.