September is the month of harvest. I heard a farmer on the news say he expected the harvest to start in about a month.
Since I was born in September, I have had a history with grapes. I was always told that my mother was scolded when she was in the hospital. At that time, they stayed in the hospital longer than they do today. She was a nursing mother, what she ate and drank reflected in me. Someone brought him grapes. She ate them and I paid the price. The nurses knew right away what was going on. More grapes for mom!
I grew up in grape country, but never had any experience until high school. My high school French teacher owned a grape orchard. He came to pick us up on a Saturday and hired the French club to harvest his grapes. We had a lot of fun and picked up lots of grapes.
The grapes I’m talking about are called Concords. They are mainly used for eating and for juice and jelly. Every time I see a jar of grape jelly in the store, I wonder if the grape is from here.
My neighbors were pickers. Every spring and every fall they were busy. A truck picked them up early in the morning and brought them home every day. In the spring, they tied the vines so that the grapes would grow without interference from the leaves covering them. In the fall, they collected the grapes, then trimmed them after the harvest.
I knew about the process, but I never participated in it. When I worked for an agricultural publication, I had a personal view of the grape industry. In August I visited the farm and spoke to the farmer. Since nothing was happening in the fields at that time, he was free to give me information. We walked around the farm looking at the vines laden with grapes. I have gathered enough information to produce an educational piece.
Harvesting is when the sugar content is just right. It is known as brix. This is how farmers are paid. They are paid for the sugar content. Salary is something else that is unusual. Farmers are not paid until the following season. This creates a bit of a strain on the budget since the farmer has no idea what his rate of return will be.
That year that I visited the farmer, I had my first ride on a grape picker. It was fun. I wiggled and twisted so I could see the grapes falling into the cart. The picker gently shook the vines causing the grapes to fall. Were they all perfectly ripe? No, probably not, but the majority of them were at their peak. Since pickers are expensive, most farmers cooperate to minimize costs. The picker arrives at a farm and the grapes are picked. I got some good pictures while riding on the picker.
You certainly cannot confuse the smell of grapes. The air is filled with fragrance. It reminded me of home. We always smelled of grapes being made into jelly by the Bedford Company which was located near our high school. Eventually the factory was bought out by Kraft and a new factory was built across town.
My uncle worked there. He was able to show us around the facility. It was wonderful to see those bottles on the conveyor each filling up with the purple semi-liquid.
When I moved to Hickory Heights, I first cooked on a wood stove. There was no other cook in the kitchen. It was new to me. A neighbor brought me some grapes she acquired from a cousin who lived in Portland, NY. She asked me if I wanted to make jelly for her. Even though I was reluctant, I accepted. I had to keep the temperature of the stove constant enough to cook these grapes. I cooked these raisins and let them drain in a jelly bag. The perfectly clear purple jelly was perfect. I used wax to coat the jars she brought me. My family was happy because I was able to keep a few jars.
Incidentally, I’ve made a lot of jelly since, but on my new electric stove. It’s much easier to control the heat on that!
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pennsylvania. Contact [email protected]