Food Memories: An After-School Snack in the Vineyards

Concord grapes, eaten out of hand, were the taste of home and autumn

Food Memories: An After-School Snack in the Vineyards
Concord grapes, in season in the fall. (Shutterstock)

My mother and father, Nebraska natives and Dust Bowl survivors, moved to Colorado when my dad secured a teaching job in Denver, where I was born in 1944. My dad purchased a half-acre plot in a suburban development west of the city and set about building a rambling stone ranch house.

He and my mom labored for years to create a garden landscape to surround the house. The anchor of their garden was the large grape vineyard bordering the backyard. Three kinds of grapes thrived in the vineyard: Niagara, sweet and dusty green; Kyoho, tasting like cotton candy and almost brown in color; and my favorite, sweet, purple Concord grapes.

My friends soon discovered that between the huge vegetable garden, a fully-stocked orchard, and the grape vineyard, our property was a treasure trove of fun and food. Our elementary school was just around the corner, and when the grapes ripened in September and October, a crew of us would head to the vineyards for a heavenly after-school snack. My pal Elise favored the sweet brown Kyoho and Suzie ate Niagaras with gusto. But my favorite was always the Concord, a classic grape for making sweet wine.

My grandmother was a temperance worker, so there was never a discussion of wine-making in our house. But my mom made quarts and quarts of Concord grape juice that we drank all year long. And to me, Concords eaten out of hand were the taste of home and autumn.

Concord grapes take a little patience if you intend to eat them off the vine. They are full of seeds and the skin can be tough and sour. My dad developed a unique way to counter those negatives, and I’ve eaten Concords that way all my life. He would pop the pulp right out of the skin into his mouth, discarding the sour skin. Then, he would tenderly mash the pulp with his tongue, releasing the complex juice. That done, he’d swallow the whole thing, savoring the remarkable aftertaste.

It’s early September here in Pennsylvania, where I now live. I’ll start combing the farm stands for Concords soon and can’t wait to wake up my forgotten childhood memories when I pop the first one into my mouth.

—Kae Tienstra, Fogelsville, Penn.