He may not have been Marvin Gaye, but our own Jeff Raska, Dallas County Horticulture Program Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, had us humming along during his presentation on growing grapes. A bit of Texas history got us started.
Grape cuttings were first brought to Texas by Franciscan Monks to establish a vineyard in the 1660’s, predating California by almost a century. The first vineyard in Texas was established near present day El Paso and stayed a viable producer until the early 20th century.
And it was a Texan, viticulturist Thomas Volney Munson, who literally saved the European wine industry when he grafted native American grape rootstocks (resistant to the phylloxera-aphid) to standard European grape scions that brought the industry back from the brink of collapse.
Grapes fall into two categories:
Citis vinifera – a European type grape typically used for wine, table and jams that has a high Brix unit ratio and a thin skin. Recommended varieties for Texas include Champanel, Lomanto, Herbemont and Lake Emerald.
Muscadinia (Vitis) rotundifolia – a grape that is native to the Americas and thrives in more acidic soils. They are naturally resistant to many diseases and their genetic material saved the vinifera species. Recommended varieties include Carlos, Nesbitt, Tara and Triumph.
To grow grapes, take note:
- Grape vines need well drained soil and a full day of sun.
- Vineyards should be planted on high ground to help survive late spring frosts.
- Good fruit production requires consistent pruning.
For more information Jeff recommends, “Growing Grapes in Texas” by Jim Kamas.
We also learned that grape leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services lists grape leaves as a healthy choice for your shopping list. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/healthieryou/html/shopping_list.html
Immediately following Jeff’s talk we had the privilege of hearing another special presenter; Toney Davrados. With her rich Greek heritage, culinary skills as a trained chef, and love of gardening and growing her own ingredients, we were mesmerized by her demonstration – the art of making dolmas.
Some helpful tips shared by Toney;
Good dolmas need good leaves. Here’s what to look for; leaves with a smooth underside (hairy or fuzzy leaves are tough and not well-suited for dolmas). You can also purchase grape leaves bottled in brine at a gourmet or international grocery store.
Larger leaves are better – about 4 to 5 inches across. This size makes for easier folding.
Prepare leaves one of two ways:
Immediate use; boil 2 cups water with a heaping tablespoon salt. Toss in leaves for about 2 minutes. (Do no more than 3 or 4 at a time). Leaves are ready as soon as the color changes from bright green to olive green. Remove promptly. Leaves are now ready to use.
Future use: wash leaves, dry thoroughly, cut stems off and stack. Put stacks in zip-lock baggies, press out air and freeze. Wait one month for leaves to ‘cure’ before using.
Hope you enjoy the recipes as much as we enjoyed a delightful lunch experience. A heartfelt thanks to our presenters for sharing your wisdom and expertise. Recipes below.
Watermelon Radish Salad
6 cups watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 cups thinly sliced and halved radishes
2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger
¼ cup chopped basil
¼ cup chopped mint
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice (approximately 2 limes)
Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, serve chilled.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
If you’re a grape grower, try this quick and easy summertime refresher as an appetizer or as a light finish to the evening meal.
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
4 ounces sour cream
2 pounds seedless grapes, red, green or a mixture
Brown sugar (start with about 2 heaping tablespoons)
Chopped nuts (start with about 1 ½ cups)
Mix cream cheese, sugar and sour cream together until smooth. Toss grapes in mixture until “frosted”. Combine brown sugar and nuts. Roll grapes in mixture until coated. Chill until ready to serve.
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
Peach and Berry Parfaits
For breakfast or dessert.
12 ounces Greek yogurt
2 cups granola*
1 pint fresh blueberries
4 peaches, peeled and chopped into small pieces
Texas Clover Honey, to taste
Layer in parfait cups in the following order;
Yogurt, drizzle of honey, granola, peaches, berries. Repeat, as desired.
*For a dessert option, use Fresh Peach Pound Cake (crumbled).