Fertile Ground: grapes and children


To preface all this, my mom is a public school teacher so I have always had an appreciation for teachers, and for all the work that goes into it during the school day and all the other hours of the day. This blog post is because of her influence. 

My daughter just recently started back at in person school at a private school near our house. We decided early in the summer because virtual had gone so badly for her. (She is definitely not designed to sit in front of a screen and attend for an extended period of time. Still, I’m a mom and I worry like it’s my job. Actually, it is my job, so I’m doing just fine. So I was sort of looking for some comforting sign that we were doing the right thing, and maybe a reminder that putting my faith in this was going to be okay.  

When we drove over to the school to do the socially distanced meet the teacher (strictly spaced out so only one family at a time and everyone masked) on the way there, I thought I noticed some grape vines. Of course my interest was immediately piqued because all the mustang grapes were basically done producing for the season, and they looked small to me. I asked the rest of the family, but they (probably by now bored with this Covid fueled foraging adventure) assured me they were normal, just fine grapes. On the way out, I wanted to stop and pick some but I got a resounding NO; no one wanted to go pick grapes in ridiculously hot weather and it was only going to get hotter. 

Not to be deterred, I headed back over to check out the grapes. (I brought my daughter with me, telling her I noticed low hanging bunches and she would be critical to helping me complete my mission.  Sometimes she agrees, sometimes she doesn’t. I’ll take what I can get.) 

When we got over, I realized they WERE really small grapes. Like, tiny! Mustang grapes are about 3 times the size of these fragile little fruits.  I think they may be frost grapes, but I’m not entirely sure. (I have an email in to the local extension office and I’m waiting to hear back).  Frost grapes are less common, and they get sweet after a the stress of a frost. (though in the Texas heat, they generally don’t last that long and dry out on the vine and end up on the ground) Unlike mustang grapes, which have fuzzy undersides on the leaves, their leaves are smooth and can be used for culinary purposes (Like flavored rice wrapped in grape leaves, which is a dish my great grandparents brought with them when they came to The United States) That means you get double the use from the plant- both sweet and savory dishes! 


Mustang grapes are larger and very acidic.  They are so acidic that they can actually cause blisters if eaten raw from the vine.  In fact, while they make great jam, they aren’t table grapes at all.  I thought it was very cool that the difference of the front gate was the dividing line between the two types of grapes. My daughter’s school campus was fertile ground to grow the tiny fragile frost grapes that mature on their own timeline and wild sour mustang grapes grew outside.  

Once I was out there with my tools, we started gathering the grapes. It became easier to just gather sections of vines because picking each individual grape while stretching on tip toe to reach the higher fruits was just too hard to do in the Texas heat.  We started filling a plastic tub, but eventually just started piling the grapes in the trunk of the van.  I have started carrying a moving blanket in my car, because you just never know when you are going to need a drop cloth.  





Once I got the grapes home, I had a huge mess of leaves, vines and grapes on my hands. I started sorting through, separating the nice leaves and grapes from the vines and damaged leaves. (Those went into a burn/compost box) and eventually I had everything sorted. I have to say, I was originally a bit disappointed.  Remember that giant pile in my car?  It didn’t amount to much when it was all sorted. A pot of grapes and a small bowl of leaves.  Sometimes, the process can be a bit disheartening, especially when it seems like a lot of work. 


Not to be deterred, I simmered them over low heat and the grapes ended up looking washed out. At first I was worried I might not get that deep rich classic grape jam color.  I started milling the grapes and they are so small that there didn’t seem to be a lot of return per grape, but eventually over all the sum of the individual grapes, I ended up with a pot of grape purée/juice and a pile of grape seeds and skins. 



At that point, I added the sugar and lemon juice to balance the pH (important to assure proper preservation because most really bad things can’t grow below about pH 4.6- which is used to determine if canned goods can be sold by home kitchens in TX).  Then I boiled to the jelly temperature. It’s kinda cool because sugar undergoes various crystal structure changes as the temperature rises. If you look on an old kitchen thermometer, you will usually see various demarcations like “jelly,” “soft ball,” and “hard ball.”  These describe the various transitions in the sugar once you reach a particular temperature.  A little science goes a long way getting the result you want! 



And finally, I had grape jam. I packaged it in small containers so I could return it to the teachers and staff at my daughter’s school. I wanted them to know that they were situated on - and creating- fertile ground- and give them a literal taste of the campus to show my appreciation for what they do every day and every moment for the students. Much like harvesting the grapes and working them into jam, the teachers gather the students and slowly work their magic to take these tiny raw humans and refine them, elevate them, and make them into something wonderful and useful.  For the grapes, I didn’t create anything new or damage them or force them to be something other then they are. I just helped them to be their best. The same goes for the best teachers. They add knowledge and refine the students, and bring out the best in each student. 

As if turned out, I asked the school for a faculty and staff count and got almost exactly that number.  After all the worries and work, it ended up just perfect. 

And when I was done, I ground the grape seeds to make a grape seed sugar scrub. Because even things that seem like they were a waste, don’t have to be. A little creativity and you can turn anything into something useful. Nothing is wasted. 



Advice for growing in fertile ground 
*grow them on ground fertile for their imaginations and adventures
*don’t worry that they are small, they are special
*don’t assume they will fit your expectations, you never know what their strengths might be
*always keep a drop cloth on hand. It’s going to get messy 
*don’t let appearances fool you; just because it doesn’t look like you expected, Doesn’t mean it’s not working. 
*it might seem like individual grapes/moments don’t make a difference, but they add up. 
*it might take a lot of work to refine them into the finished product while they are learning and growing. Keep at it. 
*a little science is always a good thing 
*no moment is wasted. Kids are learning even when they don’t seem to be. It all matters. 

To those who teach, where my children are, and everywhere, thank you. You create a fertile ground around you where you grow little minds turn fragile, wild little things into something amazing in tiny little steps every day, in classroom moments and in between. 







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What on earth is with the jars?

Welcome to Moonlady’s kitchen

Can I eat that? Asparagus gone to fern