It’s graping time. I can’t help it. Every year, come the first week of September, I run in the woods and am intoxicated, over and over, by the smell of the wild grapes. It’s like nothing else—except any artificial-grape-flavored thing you’ve ever loved. It smells like Nehi. Like Laffy Taffy, Grape Bazooka, Otter Pops. It makes me almost dizzy with longing. After you reach up or in to grab a handful, and then you burst the purple globes in your mouth, crush the tannic seeds under your teeth, the grapes will make your lips itch so extremely that you’ll be sure you’re about to collapse in a grape-scented anaphylaxis. But you’re not. It’s just the itch of the wild grapes! And later there might also be the itch of the poison ivy. But that’s a separate issue.
Are you still smarting, though, because I mentioned running, and you’re like, “Who are you? Last I remembered, you were rolling your tortilla boobs into a fancy burrito bosom before you lay down on the couch with two beers and a bucket of Corn Nuts”—and yes. That’s still me. I just run a couple miles here and there to compensate for the added Corn Nuts. Mostly I’m just in the woods to feel my thighs smack bracingly together. And to sniff out the grapes.
|These are called Fox Grapes. They don't bake up as pretty, but they taste great.|
The grapes! The grapes. There are two places where I really pick them, when I get serious. This involves the wearing of wellies and long pants and bug spray. And, ideally, the company of a helpful child or two to spot the best clusters and hold open the bag and get apologized to every time I lose my balance and fall into the shrubbery and say, “Fuck.” And then, when we get home, I boil them up into jam and the house exhales the sweet grape smell like we’re in a scene from Willy Wonka.
I’m not going to post the jam recipe here, because I’m not assuming you’re all out picking buckets of wild grapes. But for this insanely delicious foccacia, you don't need much: you can simply purchase a clamshell container of Concords from the supermarket (I think they’re coming from Michigan right now). And you should. It’s one of those dishes that makes you feel, if you show up with it at a party, like a movie star. Everyone will crowd around you fainting and crying with joy and marveling over the fact that you thought to put grapes and salt and rosemary together on bread, even as you compulsively confess that it’s not your recipe. And you’ll say, modestly, “I was too lazy to take the seeds out—I was supposed to take them out,” and everyone will smile with their blue teeth and say, “Oh it’s perfect this way! I can’t imagine eating this without the crunch of the seeds.” Except your friend Lea, who will say, “The seeds make me want to kill myself,” while she spits them into a bowl. But even she will admit that the bread is wildly, obscenely delicious.
Wild Grape Focaccia with Rosemary
Serves 2 or 4 or 8 or 12, depending
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 4 hours
This is my second year of making this, and there is no way to capture how good it is: the tender-hearted crunchy-crusted bread, the salt, sugar, oiliness, rosemary—all of it a backdrop to the fragrantly melting, bracingly tart grapes. The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, and she adapted it from Claudia Fleming’s Last Course. I do a few things different: I don’t seed the grapes; I do chop the rosemary; instead of warming the milk, I compensate for its chill by using hot instead of warm water. It’s not a hard recipe, but it involves strangely ongoing odds and ends of rising, so make sure you’re not in a rush to get somewhere.
3/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons cold milk
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups halved Concord, red or black grapes (optionally seeded: Smitten uses the tip of a paring knife for this)
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, chopped
2 tablespoons coarse (or regular) sugar
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (or a little less than that of kosher salt)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and mix well on low. Attach the dough hook, raise the speed to medium-low and knead the dough for 8 minutes longer. (Okay, I did it all with the dough hook. What can I say?)
Brush a large bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Scrape dough into the bowl (I used an oiled rubber spatula) and brush the top with additional oil (or just roll it around in the oil like I do. The dough is profoundly sticky: do not be alarmed!). Cover with plastic wrap (or a bowl cover) and let it rise in a cool place until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Press the dough down with an oiled hand and divide it into two balls (Smitten has you start flouring hands and surfaces at this point, but I do better sticking with the oil, given how oily it all is). Brush a large baking sheet (or two small ones) with olive oil, place the balls of dough on it and brush the top with more oil. Set it aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel.
After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch shape. It will be dimpled from your fingers. Cover again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush tops of dough with remaining olive oil and top the sprinkle grapes, rosemary, sugar, and coarse sea salt evenly over the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Let cool before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
|I couldn't resist showing you my yeast jar.|
|This is what the dough looks like when it's done! Seriously. It is a sticky mess.|
|But it's also very springy and lively, and it kind of burbles and bubbles while you're working with it, which I love. I'm so used to whole wheat bread dough, which is like the Eeyore to this dough's Tigger, if you know what I mean.|
|Risen, with oil blurbling up to the surface. Yum.|
|It is very funny and bouncy and you have to keep at it to wrestle it into flattened shapes.|
|Toppings. I've had the same jar of sea salt since some friends went to France years ago. I forget about it for months at a time.|
|I forgot to take a picture, and opened the oven door to do it! Note the pooling olive oil, which the bread will absorb spectacularly.|