The Bluest Eye Concord Grape Sorbet

by Cara Nicoletti on September 30, 2012

When I moved to Brooklyn what feels like ten lifetimes ago it was the hottest, thickest portion of July. In the bathroom of my new apartment an ominous black mold crept across the ceiling like sponge-paint, thriving in the dense humidity. In the kitchen my feet stuck to a mysterious blue substance that no manner of elbow grease could remove, and there were cockroaches, droves of them, their burnt-sugar-shells lounging in the drains and scurrying across the walls (sorry I never told you this, mom and dad). That first night there was a ground-shaking thunderstorm—not the kind that you cuddle up against, the kind that actually terrifies you. I bought a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine only to remember that the gas hadn’t yet been turned on so I couldn’t use my oven and that I had left my wine-key behind in my former apartment. I bought a honey-dipped donut from the deli next door, sat on the grey-blue carpet of my bedroom floor and cried myself exhausted.

The next morning I pulled myself out of bed early and immediately set to scrubbing, scraping and bleaching. Opening my kitchen window to air out the smell of cleaning chemicals I noticed for the first time a delicate green vine creeping and curling along the bricks of my building and wrapping itself around the fire escape. Even though it was too early for the plant to bear any fruit, I recognized it immediately as a concord grape vine. There was a house on the street where I grew up that was covered on one side by concord grapes and my friends and I spent many a crisp fall afternoon gorging ourselves on them. They are one of the only fruits that truly taste like their artificial imitation, which is one of the reasons I loved them so much as a kid—they tasted like Dimetapp cough syrup and Welch’s grape jelly and purple Bazooka gum, eating them always felt like something I shouldn’t be doing (and seeing as I was stealing them from a neighbor’s yard that feeling was probably pretty valid).

Maybe it’s from the five months I spent in college writing a thesis on food imagery in Toni Morrison novels but I rarely eat grapes without thinking of her. Nobody can make produce sexy quite like Toni Morrison can—her plants sway their hips, her fruits swell and bloom, her berries run over with juice. Grapes make an appearance in almost all of her novels—in  Beloved there is Mr. Garner’s grape arbor which only yields “grapes so little and tight. Sour as vinegar too.” Sethe wraps Beloved in muslin and lays her down to rest in the arbor’s cool shade. In Song of Solomon Pilate makes wine from piles of grapes and the women eat the leftovers with hot bread and butter. In Paradise statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are strangled by overgrown grapevines and in Jazz there is the river Treason, surrounded by hills covered in wild grapes. My favorite of all of Morrison’s grape passages, however, takes place in The Bluest Eye, when Cholly and Darlene chase each other through a field of muscadine.

The object of the walk was a wild vineyard where the muscadine grew. Too new, too tight to have much sugar, they were eaten anyway. None of them wanted—not then—the grape’s relinquishing of all its dark juice. The restraint, the holding off, the promise of sweetness that had yet to unfold, excited them more than full ripeness would have done. At last their teeth were on edge, and the boys diverted themselves by pelting the girls with the grapes. Their slim black boy wrists made G clefs in the air as they executed the tosses. The chase took Cholly and Darlene away from the lip of the gully and when they paused for breath, Jake and Suky were nowhere in sight. Darlene’s white cotton dress was stained with juice. Her big blue hair bow had come undone, and the sundown breeze was picking it up and flittering it about her head. They were out of breath and sank down in the green-and-purple grass on the edge of the pine woods. Cholly lay on his back panting. His mouth full of the taste of muscadine, listening to the pine needles rustling loudly in their anticipation of rain.

The grapes in this passage are ripe with possibility and promise—tasting their sourness is simply a reminder of what sweetness will eventually come. When I started seeing concord grapes in the market a few weeks ago I immediately thought of this passage and that lonely, homesick time that feels so long ago now, when the grapes outside of my window signaled to me not only respite from the heat of summer but also a time when this apartment might finally feel like my home. The grapes on my fire escape are long gone now, my crazy landlord came at them with a weed-whacker one day, convinced they were causing a bee infestation (I cried then, too), but my excitement over seeing them in the market hasn’t faltered. This sorbet is a perfect way to enjoy their sweet, musky flavor. The lemon cuts the grapes’ sweetness and the wine makes their flavor a little more grown-up than the grape Popsicles of your childhood. It is perfect on its own, in a cocktail or sopped up with olive oil cake (which is what I did–yum!)

The Bluest Eye Concord Grape Sorbet
Makes 1 Quart (4 1-cup servings)

If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, don’t fret! Just make sure you have a good blender (a food-processor doesn’t quite work the same, and gets very messy). Simply freeze your base until it is solid, blend it in the blender until smooth and re-freeze. I made two rounds of sorbet and actually preferred the texture that this method yielded to the ice cream maker version. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pounds concord grapes, stemmed
  • Juice of half a large lemon
  • 10 Tablespoons corn syrup (this keeps ice crystals from forming. You can sub 6 Tablespoons of mild-flavored honey or sugar if you don’t want to use corn syrup)
  • 4 Tablespoons red wine

*You will also need a food-mill and cheesecloth

Directions:

Place grapes in a food mill and process until all of the juice is released. Pour the pulp left over in the food mill into a piece of cheesecloth and ring until every ounce of juice is released (you can skip this step if you want, but seeing all of that juicy, useable pulp in the food-mill really bugged me). Whisk corn syrup, lemon juice and red wine into grape juice and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until mixture just comes to a boil. Chill base thoroughly and spin according to your ice-cream maker’s instructions (if you don’t have an ice-cream maker use the method given at the top).

Don't forget to follow along for updates:

If there’s a literary food scene you want to see come to life be sure to leave me a comment and let me know! Or take a peek in the Recipe Index.

Leave a Comment

INDIA October 1, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I can see you sitting on your Bk floor with your donut now.

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:35 am

and I can see YOU sitting in that same apartment eating a mountain of mussels and drinking gallons of wine and laughing and dancing and I feel happy

Reply

Marcy October 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Cara, Once again you can make even an author like Toni Morrison accessible… I have struggled with her writing in the past but after reading this I know its me not her. Leave it to you to find the deliciousness of The Bluest Eye.
Thank you for another beautiful post- How you found the time after the wedding of the century is beyond me! Can’t wait to see what’s next!

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:36 am

I have to admit, I fell in love with her writing while taking a class on her, so I had a lot of guidance and help. She can be difficult but do try to give her another try, there is no one else like her.

Reply

Christina October 2, 2012 at 12:24 am

Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm. I can taste this sorbet and the tears and the stolen grapes. Great stuff.

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Thank you, Christina! The tears didn’t taste nearly as good as the sorbet or the stolen grapes but they were certainly necessary.

Reply

Power of 26 October 2, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I’m your newest fan! Sooooo glad I stumbled across this culinary & literary treasure.

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I’m so glad you did, too, Sherri!

Reply

Elizabeth October 3, 2012 at 2:42 am

Toni Morrison — easily one of my favorite novelists ever — and you’ve expanded upon her prose with your own! This is one of my favorite of your posts, I think –

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Thank you, Elizabeth. As always, you are the best.

Reply

Elizabeth Zima October 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Since Concords are not common in Napa, can one sub with red wine grapes?

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

Yes, absolutely! It will be delicious with any kind of grape. Let me know how it turns out if you make it!

Reply

Stephanie October 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Beautiful. Creative. Wonderful. You inspire me.

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:48 am

Thank you for the lovely comment, Stephanie, I hope you’ll be back

Reply

MJ October 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Diner’s Journal: What We’re Reading… New York Times!
Finally getting the recognition you SO deserve! Congratulations!

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:38 am

Thank you, MJ! Very very exciting.

Reply

theadventuresofadr October 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

This sounds like heaven. Your writing is also superb. Tell Judd I said he better (I’m pretty sure he did) like this recipe. Congrats on the press too!

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

Doctor Dan! So happy to see you here. Juddy doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth which is why I’ve gained about 100 pounds writing this blog and he’s still got his skinny little chicken legs.

Reply

Sara @ The Cozy Herbivore October 4, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Absolutely gorgeous! I also love concord grapes so, so much– they are such divine signalers of autumn, so sensuous and tasty!

I’m so happy you included corn syrup in your sorbet– I’m not a huge corn syrup fan for many reasons, but you’re absolutely right, it’s crucial in sorbets to keep those pesky ice crystals at bay. So many home recipes for sorbet don’t include it, and they always turn out so flaky and hard.

Great work, as usual!

Reply

yummybooks October 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

Thank you, Sara! “Sensuous” is the perfect word for concord grapes. I’m so glad the corn syrup didn’t scare you away, it gets a bad rap but sorbet is once place it just can’t be skipped.

Reply

smschoenfeld December 7, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Wow, Cara, you are a genius! For the record, I am a big fan of corn syrup.

Reply

smschoenfeld December 7, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Also, those grapes look AMAZING!

Reply

jessicabenjestorf December 7, 2012 at 11:10 pm

So i’m from the west coast and for some reason I’d never had a concord grape until I read this post. I bought them everywhere I saw them after this. I can’t believe how good they are

Reply

Bernice December 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

Eating concord grapes off the vine is a childhood memory of mine as well. I never knew that you could actually make something out them! This post was very nostalgic for me. Beautifully written in every way.Thank you

Reply

Deb December 8, 2012 at 10:16 am

My best friend growing up had concord grape vines in her backyard. This was t unusual for the suburban yards of my childhood. We used to pick the grapes, squeeze the fruit right out in our mouths and drop the skins all over her yard. I will never forgot the taste of a concord grape. Making this recipe will bring me back!

Reply

Foodie123 December 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm

This is so stunningly beautiful. I love your blog. This is one of my favorite posts!! Keep going, please!

Reply

Beans December 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

Thanks to our Southern Literature class during our senior year of high school, I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelves for Toni Morrison. I was given this book as a graduation present, but had never made the connection between the novel and the references to food before your blog: this is one aspect of your blog I love – re-reading or re-discovering books and looking at them through a different [food] lens. This recipe brings me back to sneaking to the apple farm up my street and harvesting the grapes from the vines throughout the orchard, despite the brazen “do not pick” signs. This will be refreshing given the recent heat!

Reply

Emily K December 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I woud take this over ice cream any day! Never thought about trying to make it myself though… definitely on my list of to-dos! Love all the color in these photos, too.

Reply

Previous post:

Next post: