In addition to the part they play in wine, grapes have a variety of talents.
They are low-caloried (only 67 calories per half cup), low-cost and beautiful to look at. They come prepackaged by nature in pop-in-your-mouth sizes. And grapes are available year-round.
This is a particularly good time for grapes because most of the 14 major varieties are on the market. Look for red, green and blue-black grapes, especially the following varieties:
Almerias and calmerias - in production through February. Both of these green grapes are mild-tasting.
Emperor - available now through April. This red grape has a brisk cherry flavor and large, full clusters.
Ribier - This luscious jet-black grape is mild and sweet, good in salads and desserts. It's available through February.
Other major varieties include Thompson, the pale green seedless (which comprises 50 percent of all grapes produced in California); tokays - red grapes; red malaga; and ravere, which appear in the fall.
Most of our grapes come from California, which provides roughly 91 percent of all table grapes produced in the United States and Canada. The remaining 9 percent comes from Arizona. Domestic production accounts for grapes we eat 10 months out of the year. During April and May, our grapes are supplied by Mexico, Chile and South Africa.
Grapes are used in three ways: crushed for wine, spirits and other processes (63 percent); dried for raisins (27 percent), and for fresh consumption (10 percent).
Freeze grape clusters, and place them in a glass punch bowl for a decorative touch.
Marinate grape clusters in orange liqueur for several hours and serve in dessert glasses, or serve them topped with sour cream and brown sugar.
Whip equal amounts of honey and sour cream together, add a splash of afavorite liqueur or fruit juice and drizzle over crisp green grapes.
Garnish a pork loin roast or holiday ham with purple and green grapes. For added elegance, frost the grapes first by dipping them in slightly beaten egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Dry on racks before arranging.
Grapes keep best at just above 32 degrees. Just before serving, rinse them with cold water. Washing them sooner decreases their nutritional value.
Freezing grapes is fine but serve them partially frozed so they retain their shape.
These recipes should fulfill your grape expectations:
GRAPE CLUSTERS IN BRANDY
(Makes 2 quarts) 4 cups sugar 2 cups water 2 1/2 pounds grapes in small clusters Peel of 1 orange, cut into 1/4-inch strips 1 cup brandy 1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur
Combine sugar and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. While syrup is simmering, arrange grapes and orange peel in storage jars or a crock, remove syrup from heat and stir in brandy and liqueur. Pour over grapes, cool and cover. Keep refrigerated.
ORANGE-GLAZED GAME HENS
(2 servings) 2 Rock Cornish game hens, giblets removed Salt and pepper 2 tablespoons melted butter 3/4 cup syrup from grape clusters in brandy 2 tablespoons soy sauce Grape clusters in brandy
Wash hens and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper, inside and out. Tie legs together and place hens in baking dish, breast side up. Brush with melted butter; bake in 375-degree oven for 40 minutes. In small saucepan simmer syrup and soy 5 minutes. Pour over hens at end of 40 minutes and continue baking 20 minutes longer, basting twice.
To serve: Arrange hens on warm serving platter and surround with grape clusters and orange strips. Heat remaining glaze, strain and pour over hens. Serve at once.
VINTER'S CITRUS SALAD
(6 to 8 servings) 2/3 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 envelopes (1 tablespoon each) unflavored gelatin 1/3 cup lemon juice 2 cups boiling water 1/3 cup orange juice 1 1/2 cups halved seedless grapes 1 1/2 cups halved and seeded red grapes Salad greens Lemon and orange slices Sour cream or yogurt (optional)
In a mixing bowl, blend sugar, salt and gelatin. Stir lemon juice into mixture; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Stir boiling water until gelatin and sugar dissolve; add orange juice. Chill unil mixture begins to thicken slightly. Add grapes. Pour into 5 1/2-cup mold. Chill firm.
To serve: Unmold on serving dish lined with salad greens. Garnish with lemon and orange juice slices. Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, if desired.
(4 to 5 pints) 5 1/2 pounds tart apples 4 cups sugar 1 pound (about 2 cups stemmed) seedless grapes 4 or 5 large sprigs fresh mint
Remove stems from apples, slice and put into a large kettle. Add just enough water to barely cover apples. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until apples are very tender. Spread 4 layers of moistened cheesecloth over a mixing bowl and secure with string or rubber bands. Pour apples into cheesecloth and let juice drip through cheesecloth. Measure juice; you should have 6 cups. Pour into kettle and bring quickly to a boil. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add grapes and boil rapidly until jelly point is reached on candy or jelly thermometer. Place a sprig of mint in each hot, sterilized jar. Skim top of jelly and pour into jars. Seal.
BRANDIED DESSERT FRUITS
(2 quarts) 1 package (1 pound) brown sugar 3 cups water 1 1/2 pounds seedless grapes, in small clusters 1 package (6-ounces) dried apricots 1 package (10-ounces) pitted dates 1 cup raisins 1 cup brandy
Combine sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. While syrup is simmering, arrange fruit in hot sterilized jars. Remove syrup from heat and add brandy. Pour mixture over fruit and seal jars.