Early fall grapes

{Crunchy, juicy, tart and sweet–the perfect package}

Grapes

Although grapes are available year ’round, imported from the southern hemisphere in winter and from elsewhere in spring and summer, it is fall when the best California-grown varieties appear on the market. With skins ranging from a pale jade green to pink, red and purple, the profusion of grapes now on shelves in your local supermarket and at farmers’ markets in California is a pleasure of the season not to be taken lightly. Bursting with refreshingly tart and sweet juice, these fruits are versatile. Whether plated next to an array of artisanal cheeses, popped into a seasonal fruit salad, cooked with fish or poultry, or just eaten as is, after a rich meal, Italian dessert style, in a bowl topped with ice cubes,  grapes are also an often underlooked element in dessert. Roasted, poached, syruped, broiled, baked or even frozen, these readily available fruits of the vine change their personality depending on the preparation. When cooked at high heat, their sweetness and perfume are intensifed. When baked into a buttery cake, placed in the pan with the batter poured over them, they emerge as fruity points of moistness when the cake is turned out and served. Partnering the fruits with balsamic or white wine vinegar, dry red or white wines, honey, and orange zest, among other companions, they gain in complexity and can offer a surprising counterpoint to many dishes, whether sweet or savory.

Raiding the produce warehouse at Melissa’s, the specialty food company (www.Melissas.com) , I discovered Red Muscat (red skinned and crunchy) and Candy Sweet (pale green skinned) varieties, both perfect as a layer in a buttery cornmeal pound cake in the accompanying recipe.

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