The sweetness of Concord grapes

There’s a particular scent in the air evocative of childhood and candy treats: grapes are ripening on arbors all over town. Almost every garden in Bristol has at least one grape arbor and Blithewold is no exception. Our grape is an one-hundred (plus) year-old Concord, bred from native grapes and selected for early ripening and the sweetest flavor, growing from gorgeously gnarled trunks (I could only hope to look that cool and have a fern growing out of my knee when I’m 100) wrapped around the arbor next to the pumphouse. Despite its age, our vine is healthy, taking the vagaries of the weather on its chin.We have never (not in my time anyway) sprayed it to combat the kinds of fungus that seem to plague other gardens’ grape vines. It gets pruned in late winter and harvested now and has only been unproductive in rare years (last year for one). Most of the time Gail and I beg certain volunteers and staff members to take as many grapes as they’d need to make just enough jelly to share a couple of jars with us. (We’re further benefited by the fact that harvesting greatly reduces the number of funky past-ripe grapes that fall on all of the plants we keep in the shade under the arbor.) This year we were also able to share the bounty with the East Bay Food Pantry. As I picked them today – and sampled – I was struck as I am annually by just how intensely sweet the grapes are. And by just how much grape soda¬† – my memory of it anyway – tastes like actual grapes.

I also couldn’t help vaguely remembering, as I always do, the story of Ephraim Bull, the unlucky breeder Concord grapes, told in Paul Collin’s book Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World and wishing I could remember the details of how someone named Welch came to make berzillions on that grape while poor Bull died a pauper. I’ll have to go back and reread…

Do you grow any grapes in your garden? What kind? Do you make wine from them, like my neighbors do, or jelly?