Saturday, August 23, 2014


Gail has a temper tantrum & hacks weeds to relieve stress.
A little while ago (one week to be precise) I had a snit fit and decided to take it out on the burdock bushes by the grape arbor.  This turned into a great adventure in making Verjus/verjuice/(ver-ZHOO)... any way you say or spell it, it's vinegar made from unripe white wine grapes, though I can't promise no Concords got in the mix.  This happily met my Fortnightly Food Challenge #6, Seasonal Foods.

There is much mention of verjuice in Medieval French cooking, but no mention of how to make the stuff.  The Good Wife's Guide, A Medieval Household Book has a bazillion recipes that require it, and even a recipe about how to fake it, but I think they probably just purchased it vs. putting it up themselves.  There is a later recipe from 1600's England that uses crab apples, but I chose to ignore that in favor of just assuming that the unripe grapes were simply pressed, fermented for 24-48 hrs (because that's how long they ferment naturally) and then bottled.  Because that seems to work.  I'm taking a big chance on being wrong here.  One thing that the Goodman of Paris does mention is that new verjus is too "new" to be used, and one should mix the old with the new for a good flavor.  Other food historians have said that it mellows with age, and I take that to mean it becomes more like grape juice, and no longer has that startling sour tartness.

The overabundance of unripe grapes in the thing called "the arbor."
I made two batches.  The first was highly successful, even with the mistake of the Foley Food Mill (don't do that, just let it drain).  The second had mold in both large jars, but thankfully none in the small jar (I also had "help" from start to finish, so I was not as careful as I was with the first batch).   This illustrates the importance of using perfect fruit, least an imperfect fruit spoil the whole batch; and of not mixing your batches, least that imperfect fruit spoil all batches.

The crate-o-grapes

So, basically verjuice is made from unripe white wine grapes that are culled from the vine with the ultimate goal of improving the final grape harvest for wine.  But what to do with the waste grapes?  No pigs or chickens?  Make Verjuice!  You can use it anywhere you would normally use apple cider vinegar in cooking, or citrus juice.  It is very very sour; like Major Pucker Power!  My kid loved the stuff.  He likes to bite lemons too, so if that gives you any idea...  It has a very pleasant sour flavor though.  Used sparingly in recipes it should go well with wine, unlike citrus which can clash (so I'm told).  Since I'm not a big alcohol person, you could not prove this by me.  But there it is.

15 lbs of unripe grapes, give or take.
This basin holds about 15 lbs of grapes.  I had to be very selective to make sure there was no mold, as we had a mold problem in the arbor.

Washed grapes into the blender. 
Double check on your quality before you grind things up.

Now, this is obviously not how it was done historically, but impulse projects sometimes require modern concessions.  The blender made this project possible. 

One colander of  grapes, washed & blended was about the right amount to drain in the sieve at a time.

One "how to" suggestion was to not wash the grapes.  I had intended to follow this advice in the second batch, but for reasons that will become evident below, washed them anyway (which didn't work as it grew mold anyway).

Pulse or chop the grapes a little, just so they are juicy, not so they are totally liquid.  You want some chunks left, but no whole grapes.  No seed grain... I hope that is helpful.  So blend enough to get the liquid without chopping up the seeds.

Hint: drain the mush again for more juice. 
It'll all be brown anyway, so don't worry about that.
Next, into the sieve to drain.  You can also use cheese cloth here.  Both work well.  But you will have to do one pass through a coffee filter or paper towel if you don't use the cheese cloth.
Hint: cheese cloth can be thrown out, a sieve has to be scrubbed with a brush & takes more water than even a Western NY girl is comfortable using to wash the little bugger.

I also used the Foley Food Mill for the 1st batch, which did come out very green to start, but most of that was sediment which I strained off after.

food mill mush vs. drained juice
Here is the bowl of dripped juice, and the bowl of Food Mill juice.  The dripped is very clear in comparison to the mash of the food mill.  Note that the clean juice is NOT green.  It's a golden brown color.  Oddly enough every jar came out a slightly different color.  After heating most of them have come to the same amber/clear liquid.

Unripe grape mush
Straining out the liquid mush from the food mill. 
It took a bit of stirring, and I ended up putting the drippings from this through a paper towel to get the final bits & pieces, and still had a lot of residue in the final jars... but, on the other hand, I got an entire jar more juice than I did from the other (molded) batch.  So it might be worth doing anyway.

I swear my son cried when I threw this sour mush away vs. putting it in a go-go squeeze packet for him.


The raw verjuice, fermenting happily.
The jars are left to happily (hopefully) ferment on their own for 24-48 hours.  Big jars are better as it ferments well, but pints are fine too.  Leave the caps on lightly so if they need to burp they can, but don't leave them off because they won't ferment as well.  Once those lovely bubbles go away, and if no mold has formed, either suck up the clearish juice with a suction bulb (like a turkey baster) or pour out the juice into a sieve lined with a paper towel to get rid of the sediment.  Don't try pouring it off the top, it's too fine & just clouds up again.  Then you can get ready to pasturize (heat) it and either can or bottle the stuff.  I chose to can it.   Since canning obviously wasn't invented in the 14th c. this is not how it was done.  It was probably bottled like wine, though that is a guess.  I'm not sure how vinegar was kept them, but it may have been put up in a similar fashion.

I used a hot water bath canning method.  Steralize the jars, put them all in a big canner pot & cover with water, heat water as you heat the lids & rings in another pot.  Start cooking the juice (one batch at a time) just until it simmers, then keep it hot for 10-15 minutes.  Can it by pouring out the water from the jars in the canner, pour in the hot juice, put the hot lids on & sink the jars into the hot water in the canner until they are covered by at least 1" of water.  Boil for 15-60 minutes (this will depend on your preferred method of canning, it's not exactly written in stone - I'm guessing).  Set finished jars on a towel in a warm place, cover with another towel & let cool overnight.  Hopefully everything will seal.  All of mine did.  I'll post a pic of this in a later edit, but they are all labeled & not showing any signs of mold.  I'll put them away in a few days as long as they still look good.  It should last for a year unopened, and 6-8 weeks in the fridge after opening.  Since you will only use a little in any given recipe, I suggest putting it up in small jars.

Helping Mommy make Verjuice.
Now, the fun part.  When I decided to use the rest of the grapes in the 2nd batch, it was a few days after picking them.  Some had ripened a lot, some had molded or started to raisin up & some were fine... BUT, I had a helper then too.  So I was not as careful as I had been the first time, and not as choosey because I was busy making sure The Wonderful Boy didn't put more than 5 grapes in his mouth at a time.  He thought it was The Best Thing Ever to stomp on the grapes.  That is, after all, is how you make grape juice, right Mama?  Yes Dear, it is.
I almost gave up.  Then I remembered that my little helper will be helping me for the next 12 yrs, so I just accepted his help & there it is. 
We had a blast & even if there is only one bottle of Baby Toe Jam Verjuice it's a treasure to be savored.  Yum.  So worth the memory of him smiling up at me with 5 major choking hazards in his little cheeks (I swear I have another gray streak from this project).  I was thinking he had spit most of them out, but it later became apparent that he did, in fact, eat a lot of grapes.  Many, many grapes.  I'm amazed he didn't have a tummy ache.

Ah yes... Jilly helped too.

All the helpers.

PS.  Raccoons do not eat grapes.  They eat cat poo, but not grapes.  Go figure.