the fox who longed for grapes, beholds with pain
the tempting clusters were too high to gain;
grieved in his heart he forced a careless smile,
and cried ,‘they’re sharp and hardly worth my while.’
– aesop’s fable, the fox and the grapes
I thought going back to architecture school to feed my love for food was a great idea. Nay, it was a bizarre idea. Of course you can imagine how absurd it must have sounded when I told quite a number of architects that I wanted to study food waste as I was nourishing this feeble thought: architecture can solve anything!
That didn’t work out quite as planned so here I am taking one step closer to tasting food waste and one step further away from my professional architecture career.
During that academic period, I read a lot about waste, detritus, garbage – all the things we take and toss out because we hadn’t found a useful thing to make out of them. I read about recycling, upcycling, and life cycles. I read them all until was in a down cycle.
Trash is an edifice for depression. So, naturally, I tried making it sound pretty. I was told that’s called romanticizing. Evidently, garbage, to most people, shouldn’t sound pretty, and it should definitely not look pretty, even if it was bits of their pretty meal that they couldn’t finish. Tasting pretty? That’s just crazy-talk.
I was a terrible writer at the time, so I just didn’t know I could just write small stories about things like sour grapes, and be equally satiated. Food from trash! It’s optimistic and palatable, and of all the edible foodstuffs that we’ve labeled as trash, sour grapes have got be one of the most misunderstood. I can’t even say it without grimacing. Of course it’s trash! It’s sour like poison! But sour grapes boast such a beautiful culinary history, and I found it on the internet years ago… on my way to designing sour grapes.
I was just lucky it didn’t appear as sour grapes – it was hidden under the term verjus so I used my academic Google skills to find this: Verjus is made from premature, sour grapes that are removed from the vine in order to encourage other grapes to grow – essentially sacrificial fruits. Some smart people, in pre-industrial time, decided that they could use that trash, so they took the sour fruits and pressed them in order to extract their tart, grape-flavored liquid. Verjus is used to add tartness to a dish without adding lemon or other flavors that would clash with the wine in the dish or the wine in the pairing. It is also used for deglazing or as a marinade, and when used as the tart component in salad dressings, verjus-based salads could be served with wine! Verjus is magical – I thought, but I couldn’t find any at the time because I was living in Atlanta and it was devoid of all the wants of culinary rarities.
When I finally saw sour grapes at the farmer’s market in San Francisco, I was happy to go home with my very own. I was going to make fresh verjus, because you just shouldn’t eat the little fruits, even though my curiosity tried a few. Some people eat them as pickles and that’s probably something I will try and make with the remainder of my grapes, if I don’t drink it all – verjus is quite the darling in mixology right now, and for very good reasons. It’s sooo versatile. I’ve seen it paired with gin, orange wine, cognac, brandy… and even as a lime replacement. These days, it’s great as a quick afternoon sip, simple – with vodka, sweetened with regular grapes and lemon basil. Lemon flavors, but from basil and sour flavors, but from grapes! I’m weird like that. And It’s the same with the salad. Sweet green grapes with tart grape flavors, grapeseed oil, goat cheese, and lemon basil. I love it so much. It’s bursting with grape and lemon flavors in the most unexpected ways. It was inspired by my favorite grape cocktail from the Gramercy Tavern – the Concord Crush. I’ve always made it using green grapes and lime juice, but I think it tastes better with verjus since it is grape-based. And grape and basil is a perfect duo.
If you don’t have sour grapes but have plenty of fruit to drop, you can press tart juices from crab apples, young green apples, green strawberries, unripe plums and the likes. Pair them with their sweeter, ripened counterparts for a salad or cocktail. You can also make a verjus version of lemonade. Just a bit of the fresh juice with water and sugar on ice!
Here’s my collection of good links about the sour grape:
Note: I make very small portions so can I press my own using a mortar and pestle. You can also use a food mill – or, you can buy commercial Verjus in specialty stores and on Amazon.
For the salad: I “pressed” some grapes by hand using a mortar/pestle and strained the juices. It only need s a bit of oil. I prefer either 2:1 juice to oil ratio or 1:1 depending on the tartness of the grapes. Whisk it up with a bit of salt and toss it with halved grapes. Garnish with plenty of lemon basil and goat cheese. You can’t go wrong.
For the drink: 1 part verjus muddled with a few lemon basil leaves. Strain and shake with ice and 4 parts vodka for a simple martini. If you want to sweeten it, add some sweet grapes when mudding. The lemon basil adds a lot of complexity to this otherwise simple drink.