The new land I’ve been exploring in Wisconsin (an abandoned dairy farm) has a couple patches of wild grapes that dependably give fruit, so I had to mock up some sort of version of everyone’s favorite, slightly dated 90’s condiment. Since this one isn’t fermented, it’s closer to saba than balsamic but unlike saba, the pectin of the wild grapes seems to thicken it a bit, which gives it a consistency closer to a kind of jam, but a loose one. I’m betting that somewhere along the line, someone else has made this before, it’s just a hop-skip from picking a bunch of grapes and needing a simple, low-tech way to preserve them.
Pekmez: a wild grape condiment somewhere in between saba, and grape jelly
The finished product is brilliantly sour-sweet, fruity and jammy. One things that had me miffed were the slightly crunchy things here and there, not crunchy like I forgot to remove grape seeds, but crisp almost. It took me a few days to remember what the small particles in the finshed reduction reminded me of: the crystals that occur in really, really good parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano, and all it’s small batch, single source cousins that are popping up, and selling for a king’s ransom. (For the record I’m guessing they’re tartaric acid crystals) If you’re a chef and you want the best Regg ever (the farms are numbered, not named for secrecy) contact Great Ciao, they ship stuff, and they’re basically the kings of food nerdery and freakishly obscure products.
Eventually I heard about pekmez, or grape “molasses” made from cooked grape juice. Although I originally envisioned this to be like saba, the finished product was a little thicker, and is definitely more like molasses than the black saba syrup you can buy in a store. Traditionally, pekmez is often mixed with tahini and used in desserts, or as a spread all by itself, and that sounds really good!
Using the discarded pits, skins, and sediment
The guts leftover after straining can be fermented to make great vinegar, or use them to infuse regular vinegar. Afterwords sometimes I cook it with a little honey and reuduce it like balsamic, or one of the best things I’ve done is reduce it with a little maple, and add mustard and reduced meat stock as a sauce for grilled pork and chicken.
Below: a gallon of wild grape vinegar in the works, made from the discard of all my reductions. I’ll add last years mother to it once it turns to wine, but it will happen naturally with a little sugar and plenty of time, too. The proportion of vinegar is as follows: to each 2 cups of fruit guts, add 1/4 cup sugar and 4 cups of water. Wait until the fermentation slows (about 4-5 days) then strain and pour back into the container, and wait. I don’t always use the discard, but the infusions come out so strong with wild grapes that it’s definitely worth the trouble to play with them.
A sugar-free preserve/condiment for flavoring sauces, stews, marinades, etc.
I liked the results I got after trying a small batch with a cup or so, and then three larger ones, increasing the volume of juice I used each time. I should be clear about my goal for using this stuff though: it would be killer with some rich cheese, but I’ll be using it to flavor sauces and stews, and honestly, probably some basic sweet and sour red cabbage. It’s an interesting way to preserve wild grapes as I don’t eat jam and jelly much. Sure, you can definitely preserve a harvest of fruit by adding a ton of sugar and jarring, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to eat all that sugar, and I’ll probably end up giving away the jars to friends as they collect dust anyway, just so that those friends can have the jars collect dust in their cabinets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not against making fruit preserves with sugar, but I like making them with as little sugar as possible, and I just like to have extra tools in the kit when the season is really kicking.
Wild Grape Reduction
- Foodmill, preferably with set up with a medium die
- Fine Strainer
- Non-reactive sauce pot, such as stainless steel
- Wild grapes
- Red wine vinegar a few tablespoons
- For an easy, clean harvest, cut the clusters of grapes off the vine using a good scissors. Bring the grapes clusters home, dip them in a sink of cool water to clean them, then don some gloves and remove the grapes from the vines.
Extract the Juice
- Take the cleaned grapes and put them in a sauce pot with water almost up to the top of the grapes. Cover and cook on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until the grapes are hot and releasing their juice, about 15 minutes. Stir to mash them up a bit, then begin passing them through the food mill. Consider doing this part outside since wild grape juice can make your kitchen look like it was finger paint day at daycare. Measure the juice to see how much there is so you have a benchmark for reducing by 50% in volume.
- Take the resulting liquid and strain through cheesecloth in a chinois or another strainer, trying not to press or squeeze too hard. The pulp that's left over can be used to make really cool homemade vinegar, or just infuse regular white wine or red wine vinegar (Grape essence is exremely vinegar and alcohol soluble).
- Return the juice to the cleaned pot, adding 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar per cup (optional) and simmer on medium-low until reduced by about half. Depending on how well you strained it, and if you allowed it to settle overnight and remove some of the tartaric acid crystals, the juice may be a little syrupy, or it could start to bubble and spurt like mine. Whatever happens, and however you want it to turn out, make damn sure not to over cook or allow the bottom of the pan to char in any way or the finished product will taste off.
- Transfer the reduction to a mason jar, label, date and refrigerate. The reduction will last for a few months under refrigeration, wipe the jar's lid with vinegar occasionally to ward off mold. I have not tested the PH but it can likely be water bath canned as-is, but I can't speak to it directly y