Friday, August 28, 2009

California Table Grapes

A perfect finger-food, a sweet snack and a lovely garnish, California table grapes are a simply divine fruit!

There are few things more highly anticipated than the first ripe strawberry of spring or a crisp fall apple, just days off the tree. In our Market Fresh series, we look at the produce in season this month and offer quick and easy suggestions for how to enjoy it.

It's no shocker that grapes are one of America's most popular fruits—they're sweet, crisp and bite-sized, not to mention readily available year-round. With 97 percent of America's table grape supply coming from California, it's likely that the clusters you're buying in the supermarket from June through November are from the Golden State (during the winter months, our grape supply comes mainly from Chile). Whether you've enjoyed them fresh, frozen, dried into raisins or preserved into a jam, chances are you're no stranger to this fruit of the vine.

Do it for your health.
Over 130 years ago, famed cereal maker John Harvey Kellogg is said to have prescribed 10 to 14 pounds of grapes per day as a cure for high blood pressure. And zany as his "cure" was, it may have been rooted in science. According to the USDA, grape skins contain the phytonutrient resveratrol, which studies have shown may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. What's certain is that a 3/4-cup serving of California table grapes contains only 90 calories and 1 gram of fat as well as vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, dietary fiber and antioxidants that help protect the cells in the body.

Selection, Preparation and Storage
California table grapes come in three basic colors: green (sometimes called white), red and blue-black. Sweet and juicy Thompson seedless grapes are the most popular variety. Reach for firm, plump clusters securely attached to their stems, which should be green, not brown. Red and blue-black varieties should not show any hints of green, and the greenish-white grapes will display a slight amber tint when ripe. Once harvested, grapes do not ripen or sweeten, so you should choose grapes that are ready to eat. Be on the lookout for signs of decay: shriveling, stickiness, brown spots or dry stems.

Fresh grapes may be kept in the refrigerator for up to three days stored in a covered container or plastic bag. Wash grape clusters just before you're ready to eat them and pat dry. Serve grapes slightly chilled to enhance their natural crispness. To remove seeds, cut grapes in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds with the point of a knife. If you're looking to peel the grapes, try running frozen grapes under lukewarm water until skins split, then just slide the skins right off.

How to Use California Table Grapes
We heard these great grape tips through the grapevine (actually, they're from Megan Fawn Schlow, food stylist and recipe developer in New York City):

Freeze them.
Use frozen grapes instead of ice as a natural way to sweeten cold drinks.

Make a grape slush.
Put frozen grapes in the blender and blend with enough water to make a slush.

Roast grapes for flavor.
Add fresh or roasted grapes to salads for a little something extra. To roast grapes, place them on a baking tray in a 400° F oven for 10-15 minutes, or until soft and juicy.

Make your own raisins.
Create your own add-in to oatmeal or a yummy stand-alone snack. Just place grapes on a metal mesh rack and leave in a 250° F oven for 8 hours until they're dried out. Store the raisins in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Stuff grapes for an easy appetizer.
Combine 3 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese and 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese. Cut slits in fresh grapes, fill with a smear of the cheese mixture and top with a sprinkling of toasted, chopped pecans.

Hint: For all recipes, use red or green seedless grapes or seeded grapes with the seeds removed.

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