When I saw my friend Angie's photo this weekend of a pint of gorgeous purple concord grapes, I knew I wanted to know more. She said her husband, Andy, found the grapes at the Benson Farmers Market, which readers have two more Saturdays to check out — it ends Sept. 28.
The first thing that comes to most minds when they think of concord grapes, in season in September and October, is jelly. But homemade concord grape juice is delicious, more like nectar than store-bought juice, and it has a thick, smooth texture.
A pound of grapes makes a bit less than a cup of juice, but because it's so thick, it can be diluted with sparkling water as a spritzer. I love the idea of a sweet-and-spicy fall punch made with homemade juice, cinnamon, spicy cardamom and a hit of vodka. The recipe below can be doubled for a large crowd, or pared down for a small one.
The Benson Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Benson at Military Avenue and Maple Street.
Recipe: Spiced (and Spiked) Concord Grape Punch
For the juice:
• 8 pounds of concord grapes for a ½-gallon of juice
• 1 large, 12-quart pot
• 1 large, 6- or 8-quart pot
• A very large fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth
For the punch:
• ½ gallon concord grape juice
• 4 cardamom pods
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• ½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
• About ¾ cups simple syrup
• 3½ cups vodka (optional)
• Ice cubes
• Concord grapes, for garnish
To make the juice:
Wash and destem the grapes. Put grapes in a basin filled with water. Rinse the individual grapes, picking them away from the stem, collecting the grapes in a large bowl, and discarding the green unripe and old shriveled grapes.
With a potato masher, mash the grapes so the juice begins to flow. If you have a lot of grapes, you may need to work in batches. It’s easiest to mash about 4 pounds of grapes at a time.
Put the mashed grapes into a large stockpot. Slowly heat the grapes and juice to a simmer on medium heat and then
Stir occasionally so that the grapes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Halfway through cooking, mash some more, breaking up as many of the remaining grapes as possible.
Place a large fine mesh sieve or two layers of cheesecloth over another large stock pot. Secure cheesecloth, if using, with a rubber band. Place the pot on a plate to catch any juice that may run over.
Ladle the grape mixture over the sieve or cheesecloth to strain. Let the grapes sit for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator to strain completely.
To finish, remove sieve or cheesecloth. Rinse the sieve or cheesecloth and strain the juice again, to filter out some of the sediment that’s settled at the bottom.
Note: One pound of concord grapes will yield a bit less than one cup of grape juice.
To make the simple syrup:
Combine one cup sugar with one cup water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.
To make the punch:
Combine grape juice and spices in a large pot. Bring just to a simmer, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, discard solids and chill. To serve, combine with simple syrup and vodka, if using. Serve over ice in a tall glass, and garnish with grapes.