Grapes and the vines they grow on are quite the versatile fruit. They can be used to make just about anything from jams and jellies to plump, juicy raisins. The leaves can be used as a wrapper for dolmades, and the vines can be woven to create beautiful wreaths and rustic garden décor. Growing grapes is fairly easy as long as there’s plenty of sunlight for the ripening process and well-draining soil. Here’s the basics (and more!) on growing grapes to become raisins, plus a recipe to celebrate April 5th as National Raisin and Spice Bar Day. That’s an oddly specific holiday, but it sure got us thinking… [photo via flickr]
Plant grapes in the fall or early winter in a sunny spot. The vines will need support, so use a trellis or train them against a wall or fence. Avoid planting your grapes in a corner because proper air flow is essential to ward off disease. The soil must be well-draining and deep to accommodate grape plants. If space is an issue in your yard, you can grow grapes in a deep container and use stakes or a metal trellis to support the vines. Avoid using a plastic container as it heats up too quickly.
Around midsummer, when you begin to notice bunches of grapes forming on the vines, clip the leaves back covering the bunches. This allows for plenty of sunlight to ripen the fruit. Cover the plants with bird netting so you don’t have to share your crop with hungry birds. The best way to tell if your grapes are ripe is by tasting. Keep in mind that the more sun and heat they receive, the sweeter they will be. Sugar content changes rapidly throughout the harvesting season, so tasting the crop will give you the best idea of when they are ripe.
Since raisins are simply dried grapes, they are simple to make. All you need is the sun to produce plump, juicy raisins, and if you’ve picked them at the right time, they will be sugary-sweet. Pick the bunches off the vine and bring them in the house. Pull the grapes off the bunches and rinse and dry them. Place them on trays in a single layer not touching each other and find a sunny warm spot for the grapes to dry. It will take two to four weeks of soaking up the sun to completely dry the grapes into raisins.
And your raisins will have you all set to celebrate next year’s National Raisin and Spice Bar Day. With summer on its way soon, this is a good recipe to take to a potluck or picnic.
- 1 cup raisins, golden or dark
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- dash ground cloves
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Combine raisins and water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in oil; cool to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and beaten egg. Sift together dry ingredients; with a wooden spoon beat into the raisin mixture. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour into a greased and floured 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 375° for 18 to 24 minutes. Cool in pan then cut into bars. If desired, dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Cook Time: 24 minutes
Makes about 24 bars.