Grapes are one of the most important fruit crops for us people. Many square kilometres of the world’s land are dedicated to growing grapes. And more than 70% of that land is used for winemaking. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling – we all know them as wine names, but let’s not forget that these are actually grape varieties in the first place.
Grapes are commercially cultivated to either be eaten raw – and that’s when we call them table grapes – or processed into wine – wine grapes. Only a little percent of fruit is destined to be dried to become raisins. Which some people prefer calling ‘sultanas’. Originally those were made from Sultana grape variety that non-English speakers know as sultanina, kishmish, or even İzmir üzümü. But the word ‘sultanas’ today is widely used by many people when they refer to white raisins, regardless of their variety. If you wish to make them yourself, just turn the oven on, get a baking sheet, put some grape berries in it and pop them in the oven on low. Then wait until they dry out. Aim for 3 to 4 hours. But don’t forget to check them periodically for doneness.
Speaking of raisins, one of the tastiest things you could try is raisin concentrate. Chances are, you won’t be juicing raisins and then evaporating extra water out of them, so buying a bottle is probably the best idea. Basically, it’s a pure extract of raisins that’s widely used in food processing as a natural preservative and flavour enhancer. But it also can be diluted with some water to jump-start a fermentation process during which you’re likely to get some kind of weak wine. Which you always can call drakshasava if you please. In Sanskrit it simply means an “extract from grapes”. The regular wine, in principle, is made during the same fermentation process, with the only difference being the source material – it’s made from crushed grapes that are being eaten by different types of yeasts that eventually produce CO2 and ethanol, i.e alcohol.
Another way to turn your grapes into something delicious and sour is to pickle them. Take firm berries and slice each from a stem end – yes, an unpleasant but a necessary step. In a pan combine 1 part vinegar with 1 part sugar and ¼ part water and bring to a boil. Put some spices – 1 cinnamon stick and 1 bay leaf, 2 cloves, ¼ tsp peppercorns, ¼ tsp mustard seeds and a good pinch of salt – into a jar, top them with 500 g / 1 lb grapes and pour hot vinegar into the jar. Let everything cool and refrigerate until you feel a strong urge to take them out of there and serve on a toast with burrata cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Or is it a leafy green salad with pecans and goat cheese that badly needs your pickled grapes?