Me and my steam juicer

Concord grape soda

As I mixed one of the last jars of Concord grape juice  from last year with seltzer water it occurred to me that there would not be any of this homemade soda if it weren’t for the steam juicer that I brought back from Germany. Therefore I simply must rave about this wondrous invention.

Steam juicerA steam juicer is a large pot where the base is filled with water and the top colander holds the fruits or vegetables. As the water boils and softens the fruit, the juice drips down from the colander into the juice kettle, from where it is released through a drain tube. The drain tube has a clamp so for the first hour or so, depending how hard and juicy the fruit is, you let the juice accumulate in the kettle, then open the clamp and let the juice run into a bowl placed underneath.  I’ve had the steam juicer for several years yet I still relish the moment when I open the clamp – it feels a bit like digging for water or oil when a jet of the precious good eventually comes bursting out of the ground.

The yield is much bigger than with a jelly bag, it takes a fraction of the time, and it is no hassle at all to clean, just make sure you wash the steam juicer right after using; only the colander needs a bit of soaking sometimes. Except for grape juice, which I can as is with about ¼ cup sugar per quart of juice, I use most of the juice for making jelly.

The drawback: in the United States, steam juicers are expensive, especially the stainless steel models cost $100 and up. I do not recommend aluminum because it reacts with acid. A steam juicer is a small investment but for me it is an essential canning tool, just like a few good tools are essential in the garden. A rototiller for the garden? Never! A steam juicer for the kitchen? Absolutely. I cannot do without it.

Steam juicer elderberries

Photos by Ted Rosen

Read the label

Concord Grape Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt is always a great dessert – it feels like a special treat yet with only four ingredients, it is easy to make. I keep the freezer bowl of the ice-cream maker in the freezer all the time so it is always ready to go.

Yesterday I wanted to make blueberry frozen yogurt from the blueberries I picked at a blueberry patch last summer. Only when I was about to strain the cooked fruit through a sieve did I realize those were not blueberries! Those were the precious Concord Grapes I had set aside for my Stuffed Flatbread.

I was too far along to change course, also short of time and lacking a better solution what to make with 1½ cups grape concentrate. So I went ahead with my standard frozen yogurt recipe. To give it a hint of Christmas flavor, I added ¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom. It turned out fine; in fact, it got a full approval rating at the dinner table from my family and a guest. Funny, I would have never thought of making Concord Grape Frozen Yogurt, and now I have a recipe that is worth keeping.

Against my usual habit, I had not labeled the bags with blueberries, thinking their content was far too obvious. Then I simply forgot that I had snuck in a bag of grapes in late summer. Lesson from this: always read the label – after you make sure there is one.

Concord grape solution

Although I have been terribly neglecting my two Concord grape plants (note to myself: read up on grape pruning this winter), they are quite plentiful. Now I am facing the same question as last year – what should I do with them? The truth is, I don’t care much for raw Concord grapes, nor for grape jelly. I planted the grapes for our daughter who has since flown the nest.

My attempt to make fruit leather last year yielded a sticky mess so I had to come up with a new idea. Schiacciata, the stuffed Italian flatbread is made only during grape harvest, sounded good yet it seemed to be rather sweet. I envisioned something more savory. Also, Concords are so juicy that I was afraid they would make the flatbread soggy.

It came out just the way I hoped and I know I will want to eat this again when grape season is over. So now I will freeze the grapes in customized portions. Getting stuck with a bunch of concord grapes isn’t so bad after all.

Stuffed Flatbread with Concord Grapes, Red Onion and Rosemary

I use a round cast-iron pizza pan as a baking stone. Since I don’t have a pizza peel, and I don’t master the art of swiftly transferring a large piece of floppy dough onto the hot stone, I placed it on a large piece of parchment.

When I first made this, I seeded the grapes – a painstaking task. Pushing them through the food mill is much quicker and easier.

 2 teaspoons dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

2 cups all-purpose white flour

1 cup white whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

1½ cups Concord grapes

1 large red onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Kosher salt

1. Mix the yeast with the sugar and ¼ cup warm water and stir to dissolve. Set aside for 10 minutes until it foams.

2. Put the flours, 1 cup warm water, the salt, olive oil and yeast mixture in the kitchen machine with a dough hook (if kneading by hand, mix in a bowl, then knead the dough on a clean work surface). Knead at low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic and detaches from the bowl. If too dry, add a bit more water; if too sticky, add more flour by the tablespoon.

3. Take the dough out of the bowl and oil the bowl. Put the dough back in the bowl, turn it once to coat evenly with oil, and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, or cover it loosely with a lid. Let rise for 1 hour.

4. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil a gratin dish. Cut a large piece of parchment paper, slightly larger than the size of your baking stone.

5. Wash the grapes and slip off their skins. Place grapes into a bowl and place a food mill on top. Push the grapes through the food mill and extract as much of the pulp as possible without crushing the seeds.

6. Slice the onion thinly and mix them with grape pulp and skins. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, turning them a couple of times until they are soft and start to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and cool. Turn off the oven but leave the oven door closed and place the baking stone on the middle rack of the oven (this will already preheat the stone for later).

7. On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough about ¼ inch thick and to about double the size of your baking stone. Spread the onion grape mixture over half of the dough. Sprinkle with rosemary and salt. Fold the empty part of the dough over the stuffing, flatten it gently, and pinch all around to seal the edges.

8. Transfer the flatbread onto the prepared parchment paper. Diagonally slash the top every inch or so with a sharp knife. Brush with olive oil and let rise for 30 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. When the dough is ready to bake, remove the baking stone from the oven. Transfer the parchment paper with the flatbread onto the stone. If you have a lot of excess parchment, carefully cut it off with scissors. Put the baking stone in the middle rack of the oven. Spray the flatbread with cold water and bake for 30 minutes until lightly browned. Remove the baking stone from the oven and slide the flatbread off the stone onto a cake rack to cool.