Grapes. They come in endless varieties, colors and sweetness. They can be used for wines, in jams and jellies and even breads and cakes. Their juice is sweet, and they’re best sought out at farmers markets across Arkansas. In September, grapes of all sorts are harvested, both in backyard gardens and in the River Valley vineyards of Arkansas Wine Country.
You may not know this, but Arkansas has an official state grape. It’s the Cynthiana, the oldest North American grape in cultivation today. First identified in 1770, it’s often referred to as the “Cabernet of the Ozarks.” Similar to the Norton grape, the Cynthiana is winter-hardy and highly disease-resistant. It’s used in deep red wines and is credited with being a great artery de-clogger. Several of our state’s wineries utilize Cynthiana grapes in their wines, particularly Post Familie, Mount Bethel, Chateau Aux Arc and Keel’s Creek.
Arkansas is also the oldest grape juice and wine producing state in the southern United States. Two wineries, Wiederkehr Wine Cellar and Post Familie Vineyards, started off in 1880 in the Altus region of the state (check out Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley for the history of winemaking in Altus). Today, these wineries along with Mount Bethel and Chateaux Aux Arc offer tours and tastings.
While our state’s wineries grow a good portion of the grapes in this state for wine use, there are also several edible varieties available to just pick up and eat. Dahlem Vineyard in Altus offers several varieties of table grapes, including Mars and Venus. The Mars varietal is a sturdy and stout grape, while the more delicate and much sweeter Venus variety has more flavor in its peel.
You can make a grape pie. You can make jam.
You can even use the leaves and make dolmas...
Dolmas (stuffed grape leaves)
20-30 grape leaves (depending on size and how much filling you want to put in)
1 pound ground lamb or beef
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups white rice
2 teaspoons allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 small onion, minced (1 cup)
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
Blanche grape leaves -- place in boiling, salted water for 10-15 minutes until pliant, then immediately remove to ice water bath.
In a bowl, mix together rice, lamb, allspice, pepper, tomato sauce, onion and garlic until the combination forms a paste. Lay grape leaf flat on surface. Place a dollop (I suggest 1-2 tablespoons) of meat mixture just above the stem. First roll up the stem part onto the meat, then fold the left and right sides in. Roll up the rest of the grape leaf around the tube that you've formed. Repeat with remaining grape leaves.
Place in pot and pour in water until just the tops are above the surface. Dot the dolmas with butter. Cover tightly and cook on high for one to two hours... or for one hour after pot begins to boil. Check back to make sure there's enough water for the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, remove dolmas from water with tongs and set aside to drain. Give them about 10 minutes and serve them hot.
To rewarm dolmas, place on paper plate under a wet paper towel and microwave 45 seconds to one minute.
Head here for more information.
Click here to learn more about how Post Familie Vineyards goes about making their marvelous wine.
And keep up with this important piece of advice, the next time you get a chance to participate in a competition grape stomp:
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