Did you know that there are over 60 grape species worldwide? That's new information to me! I am so used to seeing common types at the store like red and green grapes and concord grapes, but it turns out there are many more types. Ever heard of cotton candy grapes?
Grapes have so many uses in the culinary world. Grape juice, raisins, wine, grape jelly, etc. Even the leaves are used as the main ingredient in stuffed grape leaves. On top of being a healthy fruit and food source, they also have many health benefits. Grapes are high in fiber, rich in antioxidants, great for digestion, and help promote a healthy heart.
What are Wild Grapes?
Well, have you ever spotted wild grapes? Part of the grape family and found in North America as well as other countries, wild grapes grow in small bunches on long, leafy grape vines. Also known as the riverbank grape, there are dozens of species of wild grapes found in the United States and around the world.
A woody vine that can easily grow in plenty of locations like riverbanks and fencerows, wild grape vines climb so well because of their forking tendrils. The grape vines produce lobed leaves similar to the cultivated grapes and in the early Spring, the leaves can be eaten. Try tossing them into a salad or stuff the grape leaves like they do in Mediterranean cuisine.
This species of wild grape grows in small, hanging bunches shaped like a pyramid. The fruit is small and tastes best after the first frost, usually around late summer or early fall, and appears dark purple or black in color.
They have thick skin and are juicy when ripe. There are also pits/seeds inside (at least two), but can easily be picked out when eating. The fruit makes a tasty snack on the go and also freezes well so you can make grape juice to have throughout the winter. Unripe, green grapes contain a high amount of pectin, which is great to use in cooking and canning.
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"What are you doing up there in those grapes? Don't be afraid. A few of them won't hurt you. I mean, they won't pick you if you don't them." ( — ‘Wild Grapes,’ by Robert Frost) ************ Wild Grapes -- Vitis reparia -- It's possible to eat these before the first frost, when the (also edible) leaves are still green, but only do so if you enjoy the pucker! After a light freeze they are sweeter...though still somewhat tart. They make wonderful juice and jelly -- such a colour! My childhood autumns were daubed with their wine-stains...and still now my fingers sometimes bear purpled witness to an inability to pass the blushed baubles untasted. What I did not know as a child and only discovered a few years ago, is that the vigorous vines (they can reach heights of 17 metres or more) are also abundant reservoirs of fresh filtered water! Not sap -- pure water, enough for the thirsty to actually drink. Oh the wonders that lie around us yet undiscovered! Today is the 2nd Sunday in Advent; Christmas is drawing closer. And in the snow there remains evidence of what an abundant year it was for the wild grape -- untended, unexpected fruition that will feed a myriad of species through the winter. Gifting not yet done... *************** “Where is the star that beckons to the east, That God come down to bless the flesh Of living? O give us the daily yeast To burble through the veins and charm Our sour grapes into wine. Find me the crèche Where a god is cradled by a woman’s arm.” -- Micheal O'Siadhail ******* #dontbeafraid #sourgrapesintowine #dailyyeast #anticipation #waiting #winetakestime #unexpected #snowberries #giftsyettocome #advent #wildgrapes #unexpectedharvest #foraging #vitisreparia #robertfrost #michealosiadhail #mícheálósiadhail #adventpoem #christmaspoetry #windstonebeckwith #ottawavalley #eatlocal #ontarionature #nativeplantsontario #canadianfood #foodie
However, foragers, keep in mind when searching for wild grapes it's important to know the difference between wild grapes and the poisonous species known as 'Moonseed'.
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Menispermum canadense or Moonseed _ A vine, native to eastern North America, found from southern Ontario all the way to northern Florida. It can be found in thickets, moist woods, and around streams. This plant is poisonous when consumed. The fruit is toxic and fatal due to the principal toxin: alkaloid dauricine. _ Alkaloid dauricine is a plant metabolite that is a naturally occuring organic compound. Digging a little deeper, Dauricine is known to inhibit cancer cell growth and it is known to also block cardiac transmembrane ion currents.
The grape leaf has a different shape and to help you identify if the fruit is edible when you break open the fruit, the Moonseed has one, crescent or D shaped seed inside. Also, wild grapes have forked tendrils and Moonseeds do not.
Once you identify that the wild grapes you find on your journey are safe, get ready to use them in a variety of different ways.