Saturday, October 8, 2011

Finger Lakes Grapes

Last fall, we stopped at a garage sale with my parents.

Doug and I picked up some odds and ends for a few bucks, but Mom and Dad, THEY were absolutely ecstatic at their find. It was one of these:

It's a Finnish made, stainless steel, steam-processing juicer. I'd never heard of a "Mehu-Liisa" before. I still can't say I've come across many, but come to find out, they're not at all uncommon, especially among people who frequently make juice out of ... things... like grapes.

Despite their initial excitement, this contraption has sat unused in its box at my parents house (maybe even in that magical barn of my father's) since the great sale afternoon.

Fast forward to Christmas of last year. We were lucky enough to have the little guy's Gandmama came to spend the holidays with us, and while she visited, we decided to go enjoy some of the spoils of a few of the local Finger Lakes Wineries.
A view from the little guy's perspective while the adults
did some wine tasting!

My parents visited vineyards, and all I got was this saltine!

Turns out that not too many people go out tasting wine on New Year's Eve Day, so we had lots of opportunity to chat with the people behind the tasting counters! We learned that, at least at one place, they often have more grapes than they can process, and so after they've gone through and picked the best fruit from the vines, they let people come in and scavenge for whatever's left. For free. Our ears were piqued. 

Fast forward again to this week. The leaves are turning colors, the weather forecast was for frost at night, the gardens are slowly dying back, and our minds are turning to grapes. Almost as a lark, we called around to see if anyone had grapes, and lo and behold, our timing was perfect.

When Monday morning dawned clear, crisp and sunny (well, okay - at least it wasn't raining - the rest might be an exaggeration), the troops headed over toward Seneca Lake in search of these little balls of goodness.
Bobbin, picking Cayuga grapes.

First stop was for whites. They found Leidenfrost Vineyard had, and was willing to share, a local variety called Cayuga. Apparently the picking was a little slow (and the field muddy, as the little guy quickly found out - thanks goodness we're in the habit of travelling with several changes of clothes these days!), but you can't argue with "free", so some baskets were pretty quickly filled.
The haul from grape-field #1.
The second stop was for Concords, a red variety this area of the North East is pretty well known for, and one that makes an especially purple and particularly tasty juice. Personally, I think it's pretty good for eating too - tart, but with a sweet end to it, with little seeds that give a nice bust of juice along with their crunch. There, the going rate for the you-pick fruit was $0.40/lb, which still seemed to be a pretty good deal.

This was the final load - Concords on the left, Cayugas
on the right.

The picking itself was more than enough work for one day, but by Tuesday, it was time for the Mehu-Liisa to make a debut. Mom and Dad did all the leg work - washing, picking and sorting the grapes, and then in batches, steamed them to get the juice. 
I have to say, I've never juiced grapes before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but this steamer seemed to work well and, once the grapes were prepared, was simple to operate. We (they?!) ended up with about 18 pints each the juice. We did not weight the Cayugas, but know that about 20 pounds of the Concords were picked. Not too bad a "harvest"!!
Top Left: the Mehu-Liisa set up. Top Right: The bottom compartment
is filled with water and set to a slow but steady boil.
Middle: The top chamber is filled with the grapes - put in clean but whole.
Bottom: After about 30-45 minutes, the steam has brought out the juice,
which has dripped down through the perforations to collect in the bottom.

The juice can then be drained piping hot right into cleaned, hot canning jars.
The Cayuga (shown here) had to be filtered, but the Concord came out clear
and perfectly "PB&J" colored right out of the pot!
The next step is grape jelly making from all this juice - I hope to post about that soon!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Very Fall Day

I love days like today.

You don't really have much planned going in to it, yet by the end of the day, you realize you've been busy for the whole thing and got so much more done than you even thought possible!

To top it all off, it felt so very much like fall today. October. The best month of the year, even in the rain!

The first few hours of the day were spent standing out in the rain at the Farmer's Market. Well, okay, I was lucky enough to have a tent over my head... but it was still damp! It was cold out, but spirits were high and the company of the other vendors was pleasant. Dad's broccoli was a big hit!
Trying to keep warm while selling honey,
broccoli and beans for my parents. Mom was
making a guest appearance at another local
market so I covered for her in Lansing. 
Doug covered for our "neighbor" for a few minutes and wouldn't stop chatting with me long enough to even take his picture. I put this in the post just so you can see the two figures in the background - that would be the little bug and his Bobbin - playing in the rain. Boys will be boys, right?

We got home and quickly got to work on a basket of apples - peeled, sliced and thrown in a crust with sugar and cinnamon and we had a pie. A few were prepped and went into the freezer while we were at it as well.

It's probably the ugliest pie I've made in a while (there's a reason you shouldn't try to piece together all the scraps and make another crust out of them...), but with a cold glass of milk or bowl of ice cream, as the case may be, it sure made for a good dessert!

After the pie was in the oven, I set to work to make some fresh mozzarella from some raw milk we got from a local farmer. I'd made yogurt with it before and it turned out fantastic, and was anxious to see how cheese would turn out. It was divine - stringy, salty, with a nice rich flavor that you just don't get from pasteurized milk. 

The cheese went strait onto some crust I'd set to rise before I stared, and after adding a few toppings we very shortly had dinner on the table!

Peppey-roni pizza with lots of cheese is a
favorite around these parts!
Finally, after the little guy went to sleep (one good thing about no-nap days is how early we can get him to bed!), we moved on to deal with the piles of tomatoes that were accumulating in the garage. We didn't get as much juice as I'd hoped, but this pot's pretty full and it will make at least a few jars of sauce after cooking down tomorrow!

And now, here I sit, happily ready for bed at 9:30 at night!

It was a good, full, fall day, for sure.