Does everyone have food memories that take them back to their childhood? Probably. I know I have many.
At this time of the year, popping a semi-seedless Ontario Coronation grape on my tongue and feeling that burst of juicy goodness takes me right back to age 11 when my family lived in a house whose former owners had valued self-sufficiency very highly. Our standard-issue suburban yard was crammed full of wonderful fruit-bearing plants: damson plums, peaches, apples and pears grew in our backyard. All around the house, positioned above the lower storey windows like living awnings, were full, glorious grape vines whose leaves shaded the house all summer. I fondly remember, as an 11-year-old, teetering on my desk chair to open the window, sliding back the screen and picking a bouquet of blue-black grapes to eat before settling down to memorize my first list of spelling words for the school year.
Coronation and the other Ontario blue grape variety, Fredonia, are only available from mid-August to late September, so this is the perfect weekend to pick up a basket if you don’t have a grape vine growing over your bedroom window.
During the rest of the year, most commercially-available table grapes sold in Canada are imported from places like California. You can easily distinguish native blue table grapes from other table grapes by examining their size and skin. Imported table grapes are considerably larger than the blue grapes Canadian home gardeners can grow and they have skins that cling to the flesh of the fruit. Canadian-grown blue grapes, on the other hand, are each about the size of a small marble, cluster in tight bunches on the vine and feature ‘slip’ skins that can easily be removed from the fruit.
These wonderful little grapes are still a favourite of mine to eat out of hand, but I also like to add them to salads and use them in this once-a-year focaccia recipe:
1 envelope fast-acting dry yeast
2 1/2 cups (625 mL) bread or all-purpose flour (approx)
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
3/4 cup (175 mL) very warm water
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) liquid honey
1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter
2 cups (500 mL) Ontario blue grapes, halved and seeded if necessary
1/3 cup (75 mL) muscovado or granulated sugar
1. Stir yeast with flour and salt and reserve. Stir water with lemon juice, honey and melted butter in a large bowl. Stir in half the flour mixture and blend well. Stir in remaining flour mixture and turn out onto the counter. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding up to 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra flour if necessary. Place in a lightly buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Rest for 10 minutes.
2. Turn dough out of bowl and press out all the air. Roll dough into a large rectangle. Scatter half the grapes over dough and sprinkle with half the sugar. Brush around the edge of the dough with a little water and fold dough like a letter to make a rectangle. Crimp the edges of the dough to seal. Sprinkle with remaining grapes, turning skin side up and pressing gently into dough. Sprinkle with sugar. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
3. Tent bread with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Bake focaccia on middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until well browned. Immediately loosen bread with a spatula from pan (it will be saucy on the bottom) and slide onto a rack to cool. Makes 1 loaf.