Fertile Ground: grapes and children
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.