Most of our experience with Concord grapes comes from supermarket jars of Welch’s jelly, and that’s really a shame. Because the oversized, intensely flavored, dark purple fruit is one of the most glorious harbingers of autumn, and just happen to be in season right now. Named after where they were first cultivated, Concord Massachusetts, concord grapes are hearty enough to withstand harsh New England winters, and thrive in the cool of autumn. Wondering what’s so unique about concord grapes? Well, they’re typically quite large in size and robust in flavor with a slip skin that separates from the pulp. This allows the uniquely American grape to survive on the vine or be stored in cold rooms before being shipped to the market.
Because of their especially large seeds, Concord grapes are not particularly well suited to eating out of hand. But their fragrant aroma, vibrant color and musky flavor makes them a favorite among chefs and restaurants, who are busy turning their early autumn bounty into sorbets, cakes, jams, juices and even cocktails. Take Mas Farmhouse in the West Village, where pastry chef, Maritza Aranda, is plating her White Chocolate Cheesecake with Concord Grape Sorbet, Peanut Toffee Crumble, and a handful of fresh, local Grapes. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is also spinning Concords into Sorbet at his Meatpacking District restaurant, Spice Market, as an accent to Sticky Cashew Cake and Galangal Cream Cheese Ice Cream. Lest we forget one of our all-time favorite desserts, the Concord Grape Tart at ABC Kitchen. (And there’s a concord grape sorbet on the menu, too!)
You can actually start your meal with Concords at Gramercy Tavern in Flatiron, where beverage director Juliette Pope is the brains behind the annual and sublime “Concord Crush” — a blush-colored Gimlet made from Tito’s Vodka, Concord Grapes and Lime. Or you can toe the line between appetizer and dessert at the quirky Do or Dine in Bed Stuyvesant, where a freshly made Donut is stuffed with a schmear of Foie Gras and a swipe of sweet Concord Grape Jam. If you’re feeling nostalgic, stay in Brooklyn and visit Brooklyn Farmacy in Carroll Gardens, which makes old-timey favorites, like Egg Creams, Cherry Lime Rickey’s and Banana Splits. This time of year, you’ll want to order the “Purple Cow” (an ultra-seasonal take on the classic Brown Cow), an eye-pleasing float made from Concord Grape Soda and Vanilla Ice Cream. Of course, Pie is really the last word when it comes to Concord fresh fresh grapes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a tastier version than at the Smorgasburg stand, Butter and Scotch. Sold by the slice, the gooey, garnet-colored pie is studded with crushed Concord grapes, and elevated by a hint of savory Rosemary.
If you’d like to experiment with Concord grapes yourself, remember that they’re not always available at local supermarkets. But they should be a cinch to find at greenmarkets and farmstands, especially since a bout of cool, wet weather prompted a particularly prolific growing season this year. So what should you look for, exactly, in a Concord grape? They are typically dark blue or purple, and covered with a whitish “bloom” that can easily be rubbed off. High quality grapes are plump, well formed and firmly attached to green, pliable stems. Fully ripe grapes are soft and tender, but grapes showing signs of decay, shriveling, stickiness or dry brittle stems should be avoided.
Fresh grapes maintain good quality for several days in the refrigerator. Store in a covered container or plastic bag, and just before use, wash grape clusters under a gentle spray of water, then drain and pat dry. To remove the skins from Concord grapes, gently squeeze at the non-stem end, and the flesh should pop right out. To deseed, cook grape pulp in a pot over medium heat for 15 minutes, and then process in a food mill or strainer. You’ll be left with a seedless, skinless concentrate that can be used in a variety of ways. Add sugar, lemon juice and spices, and cook down into a jam or chutney. Strain out the liquids and enjoy as juice, or use as a syrup for creative cocktails. Stir into sorbet or freeze into ice pops, pour into pie crusts and fold into muffin batter, or just use as a topping for crusty crostini alongside a creamy cheese. But whatever you do, don’t let Concord grape season pass you by. Because before you know it, the only place to find them will be those jars full of jelly lining supermarket shelves.
39 Downing Street, btwn. Bedford & Varick Sts.
403 W 13th Street, btwn.Washington St & 9th Ave.
42 E 20th Street, btwn. Broadway & S Park Ave.
Do or Dine
1108 Bedford Avenue, btwn. Gates & Lexington Aves.
513 Henry Street, btwn. Union & Sackett Sts.
Butter and Scotch
East River State Park