Flavors of Life, Flavors of Earth

Not quite ConcordsThe air cools. Darkness invades the start of morning and the end of afternoon. After rainfall, the earth stays moist for days on end. We are once again vacuuming up fir needles in the house, because the damp needles cling to our damp shoes.

And a little extra spark of anticipation comes with me on trips to the grocery store, because it is the season for Concord grapes.

Pushing my cart, I scan the produce section for the special plastic clam-shell containers that will hold the dark grapes. It’s a short season, only a few weeks long. Easily missed.

The produce manager does not always display Concords alongside the ubiquitous green, red, and black seedless grapes that we eat year round. I suspect the smaller, seeded grapes present shelf-life problems. They are vulnerable to a white mold that clings to the base of the purple globe like sticky spider web.

So, autumnal week by week, I search the refrigerated bins that surround the produce section. Labor Day fades to a distant memory, and still no Concords.

Maybe I missed them this year; maybe they came and went before I remembered to look. Disappointed, I buy seedless red grapes. Again.

Here’s what I like about eating Concords:

  • The thick skin’s resistance, so that my teeth sometimes slide over the surface before finding purchase and digging in.
  • The slippery dense meat, rich with flavor that connects me back to my Ohio youth, back to summer visits to our Westerville cousins who had a grape arbor and a pie cherry tree in their back yard. Remembering the spiders that lived in the grape arbor.
  • The work and attention it takes for my tongue and teeth to separate the sweet meat from the bitter seeds. You don’t get the full pleasure of eating a Concord grape without paying attention. The rewards for paying attention while eating a Concord grape are great.

Then one late-October afternoon, there beside the bags of green, red, and black grapes, I spy a cluster of rectangular clamshells containing smaller, darker grapes. Could it be?

I examine one of the containers. “Organic Thomcord seedless table grapes.” Hmmm. “Rich Concord taste.” Hmmm.

So okay, I take a container home, open it up, and eat a couple of grapes.

Not much skin resistance. The meat not quite so dense as I remember. But yes, a hint of that slippery quality. And the flavor, I recognize the Concord flavor. A little watered down. Not quite the same wild hit. My cousins’ grape arbor and its spiders, those hot summer afternoons, not quite so sharp in memory.

And of course no seeds to deal with. For this tryout I’m paying attention, but I could eat a bunch of these grapes without giving the eating of them a second thought.

Better than nothing. I guess.

Still, it matters to be aware of what’s lost. Tomatoes. Eggs. Chicken. And now, Concord grapes. Bit by bit, item by item, we give up flavor in our food for convenience and price.

I can’t point my finger in blame. Heck, I like my food cheap and easy as much as the next guy. My larder is not pure. I could wax self-righteous about the loss of backyard-tomato flavor, but it feels a little false when I couldn’t even pull it together to grow parsley on my own deck this year.

And still again, I know that all is not lost. I’m not the only one searching the aisles for real food these days—far from it. The topic has gotten a lot of play in the past few years, as you’re probably aware. Family farms, corner markets, and food co-ops are making a comeback, here and elsewhere. The food they produce and sell isn’t as cheap and easy as in one-stop supermarkets, but tasting the difference provides serious motivation for making that extra stop. When you do, check out the local organic carrots. Yum.

So it’s worth saying again, isn’t it? The flavors of abundant life grow out of time, toil, and living earth. Those elements come with a price—and those flavors are good in every sense of the word.

It’s lunchtime, and I’m hungry.

Sending blessings and prayers for tart tomatoes your way,

Margaret

About Margaret D. McGee

Comments

  1. Brad Offutt says:

    Margaret, our friend Niko in Greece has chosen to grow most of the vegetables and some of the meat he uses in his restaurant, and by Greek standards he grows organically. He makes one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten, and it’s not a traditional “Greek village salad.” He uses whatever is fresh and has the knack to combine flavors and textures. Add his own, first-press olive oil and the results are just wonderful. He has his own grapes too, but I’m afraid you’d be disappointed. No Concords in sight, and nobody gets to eat most of those grapes anyway. They get made into wine and raki – goes well with the salad!

    • Thank you, Brad — from your description, I don’t think I’d be disappointed in the product of your friend’s grapes! I do like Concords, but a fresh salad and a glass of homemade wine sounds pretty good too.