This year we had a bonanza crop of grapes.
The grape arbor is next to the small studio where Lynn Christoffers, our resident photographer, lives and works. She’d been watching the grapes progress from blossoms to green marbles to fragrant purple gems. Yellow jackets were moving in to dine on the overripe ones.
“We need to harvest them soon,” she said.
She and a bed and breakfast guest went to work, clipping off bunches of lush grapes and by mid-afternoon, baskets of grapes covered every available surface in my kitchen.
Outdoors, grapes attract yellow jackets. Indoors, it’s fruit flies. I had to do something with the full baskets and their mist of hovering fruit flies before I had room enough to prepare supper. I was in the throes of a deadline and in no mood to deal with a mountain of grapes. I felt mildly resentful of the fact that Lynn and my guest had spent their time outdoors chatting and snipping in the glorious September day and had now saddled me with this monstrous project, and one I couldn’t put off. Procrastination meant multiple generations of fruit flies.
I don’t claim to be a cook. I don’t really want to be one. Several years ago, I’d tried making wine. The bucket of grape squeezings is still down in the cellar and I haven’t dared open it. In the past, I’d never had success making jelly and jam. Results invariably were unusable — too liquid for bread-spreading, not liquid enough for juice.
Nevertheless, something had to be done, so I plunged into jam making. First step was to bring out the lobster pot. This particular pot has held a half-dozen lobsters with space left over. It held only a third of the de-stemmed grapes. Into the pot, onto the stove, and boiled down until they were nothing but skins and seeds. I mashed them through a strainer, poured the resulting juice into the white plastic containers saved from Mermaid Farm Yogurt, scraped the seeds and skins out of the strainer and set them aside for the hens, cleaned everything up, and covered up the remaining two-thirds of the unprocessed grapes for the next session.
Howie, who knew better than to show up during the preceding process, came out of his study/lab to comfort me. “Would you like me to buy you an apron?” he asked, checking the purple splatters on my shirt.
While I was growling at Howie about aprons and kitchen scullery, the guest appeared. I glanced up. “Such a lovely aroma,” she said, inhaling deeply. “How I envy your being able to do this.”
Supper time, and I’d cleared enough of the stove top to prepare something requiring only one pot. Howie, who never complains, made a small witty comment about fruit flies.
This harvest promised to yield dozens of glasses of jam. Even running a bed and breakfast, one can use only so much jam — providing the jam jells.
Three days passed. For the first time in my history, my jam jelled. I’ve cleaned up the purple splotches on refrigerator, stove, sink, dishwasher, floor, and ceiling. The baskets are back in their places, hanging from the ceiling of the cookroom. The grapes along with a seasoning of fruit flies have been reduced to two cardboard boxes containing two dozen neatly capped and labeled jars of Cleaveland House Grape Jam, 2014.
It does solve the problem of who gets what for Christmas.