Friday, 5 November 2010

One glass of grape juice. Or why I didn't get any knitting done this afternoon

The beginning of this tale has not been photographed – I mean, how many of us, at the beginning of a 'simple' event in the kitchen think to photograph it.

We have a grape vine growing in our south facing back yard. It was planted to be trained across the yard so that the leaves would shade the kitchen which has a lot of glass along that wall. It's also nice to sit underneath it when eating outside during the summer. The shading effect hasn't been quite as effective as I'd imagined, but after 3 years of training, pruning and tlc the vine is there to stay. This year, for the first time, we had grapes. Quite an achievement I thought for a northern outdoor vine.

A rather alarming tasting in September suggested that the grapes were of the red rather than green variety. I left them hanging. Despite an early autumn that didn't even attempt to be an Indian Summer the grapes did start turning a rather attractive purple colour during October, but as gales started to rage we had to pick them all before they were blown down. 

A quick tasting revealed quite an intense flavour in the darkest grapes, but there was a lot of pip and thick skin involved. Having spent most weekends during October at Apple Events and observed juicing of apples I decided the solution would be to turn our flavoursome grapes into juice. I'll skip over the rather tedious choosing and purchasing of a juicer, but we ended up with a juicing attachment for the kitchen workhorse – my food mixer.

By now the grapes had been sitting in the fridge for a few days, so there was no time to waste. I separated the purple and 'reddish' grapes from the stalks and the green grapes and filled 2 colanders. After rinsing the grapes I opened the juicer box. This was where it started to get "interesting" – this is my polite, possible future grandchild-friendly term for what actually happened.

 Having failed to take a picture of my overflowing box of grapes, this is what was left after removing the 'ripe' ones.

The 36 page instruction book had one page of diagrams and one page in English. This juicer is obviously shipped to every country in the world, and a couple of planets as well. That one page of English contained the assembly instructions, the 'how to juice' instructions, the 'warnings' (no, I hadn't thought of juicing underwater using my fingers instead of the pusher!), instructions on how to prepare the food, how to clean the juicer and finally the warning never to immerse the base in water. Given that said page is 21 x 10 cm, you'll appreciate the brevity of all these essential instructions.

However I was in full 'homemaker' mode and looking forward to a well earned afternoon of knitting at the end of a busy week. After all, I just had to pop the grapes through the juicer and then have a little sample drink of the clear fragrant, jewel coloured juice before putting my feet up and finishing my sleeve. Rolling around the floor with hysterical laughter is allowed at this point, although you may wish to include a glass of something that will anaesthetise you for the rest of the tale.

Dear family descendants – it took rather longer than anticipated to get the ****** juicer assembled and perched on top of the food mixer. I then discovered that feed tube was rather narrow and the shape of a kidney bean. The grapes had to be inserted by hand, virtually one at a time. By now I'm realising that future plans for juicing apples will include a lot of chopping and I am regretting not having purchased the juicer that said it could take whole apples.

I eventually ended up with a system that involved popping the grapes, one by one into the food tube, switching on the mixer, ramming the pusher down the food tube and trying to keep the plastic jugs in the right place so neither juice nor bits trickled onto the work surface. The ratio of pulped bits to juice was not quite what I had imagined. In fact 2 whole colanders of grapes was being reduced to about 200ml of juice. This was my entire grape harvest. 3 years of lovingly tended grape vine and half an afternoon of ******juicing was giving me 200ml of juice!

I looked at the vast mound of bits and decided that there was still a lot of juice lurking in there. It seemed eminently sensible to run the bits through the juicer again to extract all that 'waste' juice. After all there wasn't anything on the one English page of the instruction book telling me this wasn't a good idea. Plus, the bits poured into the feeder tube much quicker than the whole grapes had done.

With renewed enthusiasm I ran the bits through the juicer, not once but twice more. What a prudent home-maker I was, extracting every ml of clear fragrant juice from our grape harvest. Sadly I was so busy noticing that the volume of juice had almost doubled that I failed to notice that what was coming out of the juicer spout was rather lacking in either clarity or jewel red colour. In fact it resembled the sort of brown sludge you see in the waste oil bucket in a garage. My beautiful juice had acquired a sort of brown 'whole food' look about it. For those of you who have any memories of whole food cafés in in the 1970's, staffed by earnest sandal wearers, it had 'that' sort of look about it.

Time for plan B. Time being something that was quickly running out I should add. The knitting was starting to acquire cobwebs. First idea was to pass the soupy juice through a sieve. While it captured some of the sludge and the odd grape that had escaped being individually placed into the feeder tube, the smaller quantity of juice I was left with still looked like primordial soup. Next plan involved one of the muslin squares I use for making elderflower
hooch cordial placed inside another sieve. This was too efficient and very little trickled through. Squeezing the muslin to try and encourage things along went a little wrong and great dollops of primordial soup surged across the worktop and trickled onto the floor. By now I had every plastic measuring jug I owned in use and if the 'soup' had been red the kitchen would have resembled a serious crime scene. Final attempt involved the jelly bag I should have used in the first place and the results were acceptable. The volume was back down to about 200ml.

Anyone who has read this far and not resorted to a glass of some strengthening liquid or a strong cup of tea is advised to drink one now, while I divert to a textile aside from the juice story.

As I moved the chaos around the kitchen I noticed that the muslin had turned a rather gorgeous muted neutral colour.  The sort of colour that goes with everything, that you search the world for in a yarn, or spend hours trying to achieve in home-dyeing, but never quite find in the perfection that was there in my square of muslin.

I stood there amongst the ruin of my kitchen and tasted the juice. A mere sip was enough to tell me that the couple of grapes I'd tasted after picking were probably the only grapes that were ripe. Yes, there was a pleasing complexity of flavour, but my 'tubes' were being seared more effectively than I'd ever experienced with the strongest vindaloo curry.

By now it was dark outside and the knitting was becoming petrified. Deciding that the French were experts in the fruit of the vine, and having read that they added all sorts of things to their wine, I reached for the sugar. The result was palatable, just.

At this point my dearly beloved arrived having been on a train for 3 hours. He may have been expecting a warm welcoming kitchen and a hot meal – he got a glass of juice shoved in his direction to distract him from the state of the kitchen. To give him his due he very quickly seemed to realise what I might have been up to for the better part of the afternoon and early evening. He took one sip, announced it seemed to be very good for his virus ridden 'tubes' and suggested he have a glass of wine and meal before tackling the Grape Juice. There was some mention of the flavour improving with a little standing in a warm kitchen. He seemed very keen that we should divide the Grape Juice between 2 glasses and have a 'shared moment'.

As I write the glass of Grape Juice is still standing on the kitchen work surface.

I shall leave it there. You don't need any details of the clearing up or the intricate operations required to disassemble the juicer so it could be washed – oh and don't forget the bit about not immersing the base unit in water. I did! Just imagine the worst case scenario, take a swig of whatever fortifying drink you have to hand, and take your imagining several stages nearer to total disaster meltdown.

Ah, the joys of home making............

And yes, now we've eaten and drunk wine, we have shared some far pleasanter than anticipated sips of an intense, fragrant juice.  The 'moment' was a little tarnished however when 'he' (he's not getting any 'dearly beloved' after this) started trying to work out the cost per ml of producing the Grape Juice - I feel his final tally of 30p per 1 ml grossly underestimates the value of my labour!

Tutor Group Fund
There is however a lovely piece of news I'd like to finish with. The knit camp tutor fund I mentioned in my last post did start, more than achieved the minimum I had dared to hope it would, and the benefits for everyone who joined in went far beyond the purely financial. The story is told much better than I could by some of the people involved on both sides of the fund in their blogs. 

The company that organised knit camp still owes a vast amount of money to the tutors, and much smaller amounts to many of the people who attended. I hope one day that justice at least will be served.

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