Grape juice and grape jellies and jams are long-time favorites of children and adults alike. America’s favorite grape juice and grape jelly come from Concord grapes.
Varying in color from deep blue to purple or almost black, the large round Seedless Concord grape grows in loose clusters on sturdy climbing vines. A powdery film, or bloom, develops on the skin’s surface which provides a natural waterproofing and also prevents cracking. The berries’ thick, tannin-rich skin offers a pleasant chewiness against the juicy and almost gelatinous inner pulp. The seedless flesh is almost translucent with a slight green tinge and is both tangy and rich. They are high in sugar and acidity but slightly smaller and sweeter than their seedy predecessor. The grape’s unique sweet musky flavor is sometimes described as “foxy”, alluding to the species’ alias, the fox grape.
The Concord grape is a variety of Vitis labrusca that is named after the city of its origin, Concord, Massachusetts. It has been a part of American viticulture since 1843 and one of the oldest domestically cultivated grapes still grown today. The seedless variety is a cross between a Thompson seedless and a Concord developed at the University of California at Davis in 2003. These blue-skinned grapes are responsible for making the famous and popular Concord grape jelly and have become a major crop throughout the United States.
Concord grapes are and excellent source of vitamin C and the phytonutrient, Resveratrol, an important chemical in maintaining heart health.
The Seedless Concord grape is incredibly versatile and used for making preserves, juice, wine, liqueur and vinegar. When eaten raw out of hand, they make a perfect tart, but succulent-tasting snack. The intense grapey flavor makes an excellent tangy sorbet that pairs well with rich creamy desserts such as cheesecake or panna cotta and, of course, peanut butter. Other complimentary flavors include, almond, pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, peanut, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, endive, arugula, fennel, rosemary, mint, yogurt, sour cream, crème fraiche, goat cheese, blue cheese, pork, duck and poultry.
Grape juice was first made by Dr. Thomas Welch, a prohibitionist, making his famous grape juice as an alternative for communion wine.
Concord grapes originated in Concord, Massachusetts in 1849 when Ephraim Wales Bull first cultivated them. Bull wanted to create a hardy vine that could survive the cold climate of Massachusetts. He initially planted 22,000 seedlings and after 6 years chose one single vine that proved to yield the best fruit, and that original vine is still thriving today in Concord! The Thompson seedless was named after George Thompson in 1872 and one of three sprouts that survived a vineyard flood in Sutter County, CA. It was initially developed as a seedless raisin grape, but eventually became the parent of the Seedless Concord.
- Plant dormant, bare-root grape vines in the early spring.
- Construct a trellis or arbor before planting. Grape vines will need to be trained to some sort of support to grow upward. This will also cut the risk of disease.
- Most grape varieties are self-fertile. To be sure, ask when you are buying vines if you will need more than one plant for pollination.
- Before planting grapevines, soak their roots in water for two or three hours.
- Select a site with full sun. If you don’t have a spot with full sun, make sure it at least gets morning sun. A small amount of afternoon shade won’t hurt. Your soil needs to be deep, well-drained, and loose. You also need good air circulation.
- Space vines 6 to 10 feet apart (16 feet for muscadines).
- For each vine, dig a planting hole 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. Fill with 4 inches of topsoil. Trim off broken roots and set the vine into the hole slightly deeper than it grew in the nursery. Cover the roots with 6 inches of soil and tamp down. Fill with the remaining soil, but don’t tamp this down.
- Prune the top back to two or three buds at planting time.
- Water at time of planting.
- In the first couple of years, the vine should not be allowed to produce fruit. It needs to strengthen its root system before it can support the extra weight of fruit.
- Pruning is important. Not only would vines run rampant without control, but canes will only produce fruit once. Prune annually when vines are dormant, in March or April. This is before the buds start to swell, but when winter damage is apparent.
- Don’t be afraid to remove at least 90 percent of the previous season’s growth. This will ensure a higher quality product. Remember, the more you prune, the more grapes you will have.
- In the first year, cut back all buds except for 2 or 3. Then, select a couple of strong canes and cut back the rest. Make sure the remaining canes are fastened to the support.
- In the second year, prune back all canes. Leave a couple of buds on each of the arms. Remove flower clusters as they form.
- Do not fertilize in the first year unless you have problem soil. Fertilize lightly in the second year of growth.
- Use mulch to keep an even amount of moisture around the vines.
- If grapes aren’t ripening, pinch back some of the foliage to let in more sunlight.
- Grapes will not continue ripening once picked from the vine. Test a few to see if they are to your liking before harvesting, usually in late summer or early fall.
- Grapes are ripe and ready to harvest when they are rich in color, juicy, full-flavored, easily crushed but not shriveled, and plump. They should be tightly attached to the stems. Sample different grapes from different clusters, and the taste should be between sweet and tart.
- Grapes can be stored for up to six weeks in the cellar, but grapes can absorb the odors of other fruits and vegetables, so keep them separate. Use cardboard boxes or crates lined with clean, dry straw. Separate bunches with straw or sawdust. Check often for spoilage.