Throughout the world the harvest of grapes during October has become an important ritual in celebrating and paying homage to this beautiful and luscious fruit.
Grapes were known to the cave dwellers, and evidence of their existence has been found in the Caucuses, where they are supposed to have originated. There is also evidence that grapes were consumed by early man in the Mediterranean region.
Early in the history of mankind the fermenting of grapes became accepted. Wine played an important part in the cults of Osiris and Dionysus, as well as the Biblical story of Noah. In Genesis, after the ark landed on Mount Ararat, Noah planted a vineyard, drank the wine and became drunk. The Egyptians, who by 2440 B.C. depicted grapes in mosaics and tomb paintings, later buried King Tutankhamen with grape juice.
The hanging gardens of Babylon on the shores of the Euphrates included grapevines. Moses considered wine such an important part of community life that he exempted from military service the men who planted the vineyards.
Many civilizations contributed to the use and development of the grape. The Greeks and Romans learned to dry the grapes, and thus the raisin was born. The Gauls were the inventors of the cask and they also developed a variety of strands that are still in existence today.
When Leif Eriksson and his Norsemen came to the New World they found wild grapes so abundant that they named the land they discovered in the 11th century Vinland. Much later, American colonists were strongly encouraged to plant grapes.
Lord Delaware and Thomas Jefferson, among others, tried to grow European grapes unsuited to the climate’s humid summers and severe winters. In time, native species were found that could resist insects and disease. Even today this experimentation goes on here in Florida, where species are being developed that will proliferate under our climatic conditions.
There are many myths about grapes. The juice, valued for its invigorating and purifying properties, gave rise to the cult of the “grape cure” in France. In 1927, the “Uvarium” was established in Maissac, France, which promised miraculous cures for a number of ailments.
The largest producer of grapes is Italy, followed by France. Most of the vineyards in the United States were started from cuttings brought from France. The harvest season here begins at the end of July and runs through November.
Grapes are available year round and are an excellent and healthful snack. They are moderate in their caloric content, low in fat, have no cholesterol, contain vitamins A and C and also contain phosphorus.
When buying grapes, look for plump, well-colored grapes that are firmly attached to green stems that bend easily and snap back when you let them go.
Tuscan salmon with grapes
1 teaspoon each salt, ground mustard and dried thyme, crushed
½ teaspoon ground pepper
4 (6 ounces each) salmon steaks or fillets
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
6 cups spinach leaves
½ teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups halved seedless grapes
½ cup dry red wine
Salt to taste
* Combine salt, mustard, thyme and pepper; mix well.
* Rub salmon fillets with honey and sprinkle with seasoning mixture; reserve remaining seasoning mixture.
* Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in nonstick skillet. Brown both sides of salmon.
* Toss spinach and garlic with remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Place salmon on spinach, cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.
* Sauté grapes in skillet used to brown salmon. Add wine and bring to boil, season to taste with remaining seasoning mixture and salt; simmer to reduce by half.
Serve salmon on spinach and top with grape sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Chicken salad with grapes
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced into bite-size pieces
½ pound seedless grapes
1 stalk celery, sliced on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick pieces
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Mixed greens for lining serving platter
½ cup walnuts, slightly roasted and crushed
* In a large bowl, combine the chicken, grapes and celery. In another bowl, mix the lemon juice, mustard, honey, oil and paprika. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and toss to blend. Line a large serving platter or individual serving plates with lettuce leaves. Spoon the chicken salad on top of the lettuce and sprinkle the walnuts over the salad. Serves 4.
Question: My two daughters attended camp this summer and have been raving about an open-faced tuna and cheese sandwich that was baked and served hot. They have offered to prepare this dish if I could provide a recipe. I hope you can help. -- Cynthia Crowell, Naples
Answer: You can thank the Gasparilla Cookbook from the Junior League of Tampa — it’s available at amazon.com — for providing this tempting way to serve tuna.
Tuna soufflé sandwiches
8 slices bread
One 7-ounce can tuna
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese (or more, if you like)
1½ cups milk
3 eggs, beaten
Salt and paprika to taste
* Trim crusts from bread. Place 4 slices in greased 8-inch square baking dish.
* Combine tuna, celery and green pepper and spread over bread. Sprinkle cheese over all.
* Top with remaining slices of bread. Combine milk, eggs and salt; mixing well. This much can be done several hours ahead and set aside. When ready to bake (45 minutes before serving), pour milk mixture over bread. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 40 minutes. Serves 4.
Do you have a recipe or an ingredient question? Contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org