Last week, for the first time, I made my own concentrated sour grape juice. I have written about it before, as I became addicted to the Lebanese dark and syrupy condiment that I can no longer get…
From the very old and robust grape vines that engulf the fence of our property in Kea we gather and stuff tender grape leaves in May for our trademark dolmades. But the dark grapes our vines produce later in the summer, although sweet, are filled with seeds and difficult to swallow. Plus we hardly ever manage to harvest them when they ripen, since wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Come harvest time we just find bunches of rotten half-eaten grapes.
The night before I planned to start the process, Costas gathered all the green bunches from the vines.
I followed Nazli Turker Piskin’s instructions for ‘koruk’ as the Turkish sour grape condiment is called. We worked a whole day with my neighbor Ela Allamani, asking also her mother, who described us the identical Albanian version for what they call ‘narden.’
As Nazli, very wisely advised, we let all the grapes soak in water overnight. They absolutely needed this prolonged bath, because they were not just dusty but most were entangled in sticky cob web.
The next day Ela and I started early the tedious work of separating the tiny grapes from the stems. It was a really long process and took us almost three hours for the 3 baskets of green grapes we had gathered. It is certainly a work that needs to be shared, as shows the Slow Food Foca picture that inspired me.
I was supposed to pound the grapes in a mortar, as is the tradition, but I had no patience, plus I am sure our grapes, tiny and full of seeds, would yield hardly any juice in the mortar. I decided to use the blender and then we pushed the resulting mash through a sieve –not a very fine one, since I decided to leave some of the pulp in. Still we were left with a lot of juicy pulp and Ela suggested we squeeze it in a cheese cloth. It was a great idea, and doing it in small batches the mash gave us three times more nice and clear sour juice.
All in all we ended up with about 4.5 Liters of juice, much more than I had expected. I added five teaspoons salt. Neither my Turkish friends nor Ela’s mother could tell me exactly how salty it should be. I am sure people in the Middle East use more, and I clearly remember the Lebanese condiment being quite salty. But I decided to make it with less salt, since one could always add more to the dishes we will flavor with it.
As it started to boil, it looked very interesting, its color changing when the sediment reached the surface.
I don’t remember exactly how long we boiled it, probably about two hours or so, until it was reduced to about one third –luckily the pot had lines showing the liquid’s volume. We decided it was ready when it darkened to a very interesting red. We tasted it and it was tart, fruity and intense.
We filled bottles and we have yet to try it in okra, as it is the old Turkish tradition, or flavor with it the unusual garlic sauce from Pelion, Central Greece. Ela’s mother told us that in Albania this tart sauce was used to flavor small fried game birds. My friend Defne Koryürek told me that she loved it on bitter greens, and I certainly intend to try it in the winter when we forage our greens.