September 24, 2008
Last week (ante-job; note I said ante, not anti), I met Kevin for lunch downtown. After enjoying a cup of soup and a bretzel sandwich at one of our favorite spots (and a chocolate chip cookie in the plaza outside, ahem), I bid him adieu and innocently headed for the subway. I ambled along, basking in the September sunshine and began to notice that nearly everyone walking toward me was toting a bundle of broad, bright sunflowers—a harbinger of fall if ever there was one. The Daley Center Farmers’ Market! How could I forget?
And thus I diverged from my path, pulled like a moth to a flame down State Street and west on Washington until I arrived at the market, which was teeming with office dwellers fleeing their cubicles and stale office air conditioning to roam through the stalls, if only for a few minutes. I realized that I would soon be one of them, became momentarily depressed, but then quickly rebounded when I saw the stand hawking the aforementioned sunflowers. For a dollar (100 pennies!) a bunch. I promptly scooped up a bunch and continued on to the Nichols Farm stand to check out its wares.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Now, I had not been to the market for one week. And my how things change! Gone were the rows upon rows of tomatoes in nearly every hue and the ears of corn stacked waist-high. But in their place stood crates heaped with peppers: a stop-light-ish kaleidoscope of green, yellow and red. There were also a pile of gourds and a respectable display of apples. But I nearly went into raptures when I saw three small wooden containers spilling over with tiny purplish-black (the hue of nasty bruises) orbs: concord grapes! And there were still some left at nearly 1 pm! It was clearly my lucky day.
When I eventually found my way to the subway, I was one stop further south than I’d intended and I was weighed down by a fistful of sunflowers, a bag straining under the weight of the sugar pumpkin cradled inside, another bag full of honeycrisp apples and then my precious box of grapes, which I was gingerly carrying in both hands. I spent the quick subway ride home daydreaming about the destination for my fall bounty.
The sunflowers are perched on my kitchen counter in a vase, of course, and you’ll have to stay tuned to hear what became of the pumpkin and apples, but the concord grapes? Those became a sorbet. A stunningly beautiful, achingly flavorful, eminently refreshing sorbet. My frozen, grape-flavored experiences to this point had all involved popsicles and slurpees and snow cones and while this sorbet has that same tart pop and is drenched with the same deep, stained hue, there is nothing—nothing—cloying or artificial here. On the contrary, its just the pure, deep flavor of a concord grape—sweet, juicy, puckery and lasting—only cold.
And it is so much fun to make—though not for the faint of heart, or not for the white of outfit at the very least, because it gets a little gory. First, you pluck the grapes from the tangled stems. If you try hard enough, you can imagine yourself doing so in a sun-soaked vineyard, but that part is optional. Next, gently simmer the grapes in a saucepan filled with a shallow pool of water. Within a few minutes, the grapes will begin quietly hissing and popping and oozing out their magenta juice. That’s the ticket.
Next, pass the grapes through a food mill, if you have one (I don’t, so I used an immersion blender, which was both effective and splattery). If you’re going for the whole vineyard fantasy, this is the point when you should envision yourself in a wooden barrel full of grapes, hopping around barefoot, with your jeans rolled up to your knees, smashing the grapes under your presumably impeccibly clean feet. You can also pretend that Lucille Ball is right there next to you. Again, totally optional.
Finally, strain away the seeds and mashed up skins, cool the juice, throw in some simple syrup and lemon juice and fire up the engine on your trusty ice cream maker. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, I’m guessing you could go the granita route at this point with success.) Thirty minutes or so later, you will be the lucky owner of about a quart of the most outrageously purple, velvety smooth, deeply flavorful sorbet you’ve ever laid your eyes and tongue on. I guarantee it.
Concord Grape Sorbet
Martha Stewart Living
1 1/2 pounds Concord grapes (1 quart container)
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup Simple Syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Prepare an ice bath; set aside. Combine grapes and the water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the liquid begins to bubble and grapes start releasing liquid, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat, and simmer until juices are dark purple and grapes begin to break apart, about 3 minutes.
Pass mixture through a food mill and then through a fine sieve into a large bowl set in the ice bath; stir frequently until completely cool. Stir in simple syrup and lemon juice.
Transfer mixture to an ice-cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and store in the freezer until ready to serve, up to 2 weeks.