I was born and raised in the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the granddaughter and daughter of a farmer. All of my father’s ancestors were grape growers in Germany, and they still are today. I grew up running through vineyards and helping with the grape and raisin harvests.
Last month when I visited Reedley, there were still grapes on the ground, drying in the sun, turning into delicious raisins. The Sun-Maid raisin plant is just a few miles from my home. For years, my Dad was a Sun-Maid grower.
This is how raisins are made.
Once the grapes are dried in the sun, the paper trays are rolled and placed at the top of the row, so the moisture can even out through all the raisins. Then these rolls are rolled up like cinnamon rolls so they’re easy to pick up and toss into the vineyard wagons.
That was one of our jobs after school every September-October. There is nothing quite as good as warm fresh raisins, still on the stem! And the smell of burning paper trays is the smell of Fall to me. We’d make big piles at the end of each row, then set them on fire and watch the ashes float over the vineyard, still glowing around the edges. I loved growing up on a farm.
This week I was preparing grapes for our missionary reunion. Most of the grapes in our Utah stores are from central California where I grew up. My Dad also grew table grapes, mostly Thompson Seedless. The red seedless weren’t around yet when I was growing up. They are a newer variety that’s become very popular.
As I cut the bunches, I thought I might share some grape tips and etiquette with you, so you’ll never be embarrassed when a grape grower is nearby!First of all, some grapes are better than others. When you’re shopping for grapes, look at the stems. You can tell how long they’ve been in the stores by how fresh the stems look. Find green stems.
If you’re shopping for Thompson Seedless (the green table grapes) look for the ones that are the most yellow. The more yellow, the more sweet.
Now for some etiquette. Never pull a grape off the stem and leave the bunch behind. It’s bad form. If you want some grapes, pull off a small bunch and eat them. Don’t ever leave a bunch looking like this–it’s unsightly. If you find a bad grape on a bunch, cut it off with the stem, don’t pull it off, leaving stem remains. This is not a pleasant sight:
If you are serving grapes, Never pull them off the stems. Again, bad form, and they won’t keep well that way. Keep the stems on the grapes, the stem seals in the goodness. To cut serving size bunches, hold the bunch and clip branches from the top down or from the bottom up, working off the main stems. Keep small bunches intact. Always let people pull their own grapes off the stems.
I think grapes are a pretty perfect food. They are beautiful and bite-sized. They are delicious just about every way you serve them. And when the grape season is over, we have raisins to get us through the rest of the year. Thank you, Heavenly Father for grapes!