The Big Blue Hippo
GRANDVIEW, WA – I had no idea, but I’m a grape picking fiend. It’s such a joy when one discovers a hidden talent. Next, I’m going to try my hand at interior design. Or soap sculpting. I can’t make up my mind.
The grape picking experience was provided courtesy of Curt’s sister, Deanna, who owns a six acre Concord grape vineyard. Concord grapes are the ones used in Welch’s Grape Juice. Welch’s is the best grape juice in the galaxy.
Deanna’s vineyard is a pick-your-own, pay by the pound farm. She doesn’t charge family, though. I chose not to tell her that the sister of the brother who married my niece would likely be considered unrelated. I believe that telling her that would be rude. Wouldn’t it be rude?
I’m not sure you’re aware, but it doesn’t take all that long to pick all the grapes you want. Curt, Rhonda, Kay and I picked a small portion of one row. Three of us missed a lot of grapes on the "picked" vines. Grape clusters can hide better than any fruit. You have to think like a grape to find ‘em.
We ended up with six crates loaded to the brim and beyond. Heavy, they were. A crate of Concords weighs over 40 pounds. That means Curt picked 120 pounds of a 240 pound pick. I really like Curt, but I’m sick and tired of how good he is at everything.
Had we had a grape picking machine we would’ve made out like bandits. The only problem with a grape picking machine is cleaning the thing once you’re finished. After a harvest, a picking machine looks like a thick, syrupy, giant blue hippo… with a few more sharp-corners.
I'm a self-proclaimed expert on grape harvesters because of Curt. Everybody around here knows and likes Curt. He’s the guy you call at two in the morning when you’re stuck in the snow, or your porch collapses or your cow starts walking backwards. It's Curt's weird nature of helping others that makes people want to return the favor. One thing the owner of a massive vineyard across the road from us did, was let Curt take his aunt and uncle on a nighttime grape harvest.
If you’re going to sell your grapes to a super market you can’t pick ‘em by machine, because the machine knocks the daylights out of the grape clusters. The harvester we rode did some serious shake, rattle and rolling as it moved down each row.
The giant blue hippo straddled each row of vines. Rounded bars located in the belly of the beast defrocked the stems of each plant in the rudest manner imaginable. Everything that was knocked off the stems, fell onto a conveyor belt that runs right between the hippo’s feet. I don’t care if your cat was sleeping on one of those vines, it would end up on the conveyor belt purple, gooey and stunned out of its mind.
The more modern machines have vacuums that suck out the cats, rats and drunken birds. The machine we got to ride on had a guy at the top who picked out all of the leaves, stems and critters. He had to work fast. You can’t stop to scratch when you have that job.
I don’t know that much about wine making, but I just imagine that crushed critters would alter the taste of wine somewhat. – “Let’s see. It’s got a nice, nutty, sweet taste with perfect acidity and just a hint of cat.”
I’m proud to say that no animals were killed when we did our picking at Deanna’s vineyard. Kay and I kept only a partial crate so we could experiment making grape juice… just like Welch’s. The worst part of the process is cleaning the stupid grapes. I spent hours out in the yard with a water hose, a five gallon bucket and a sheet of plywood. I would’ve rather washed and waxed an Abrams Tank.
After cleaning and de-stemming the grapes, I tossed them into a giant bowl, and Kay and I crushed ‘em in our hands. At some point during the squeezing, Kay discovered that Concord grapes contain an acid that blisters her hands. I was so mad that she was the first to think of it.
Next we had to filter the stuff, ‘cause it had the consistency of jam. In a perfect world, you filter unrefined grape juice with cheese cloth. – Let me stop right here and tell you that cheese cloth is not made of cheese. I was as surprised as you. I’d tell you what it is made of, but I’ve only seen the stuff on TV. Kay knows all about cheese cloth, but, apparently, never bought any.
We had to use our metal sieve. The thing has mesh with openings big enough to pass BBs through. We ended up with two quarts of really thick grape juice. It would’ve been so much better had it not been so bad. After drinking about three ounces of the stuff, my lips started burning. Then my tongue.
Rhonda has a real grape juice maker. It’s a three level urn that steams the grapes and filters the juice into a pan. Yesterday, she gave Kay a quart of her grape juice. It’s terrific! Tastes just like Welch’s.
Tomorrow evening we’re going to Bill’s Berry Farm to pick apples. Rhonda wants to make a few gallons of apple cider. I've never seen it done, but I surmise it will involve some brutality on some Golden Delicious apples.
When Kay and I get home, I doubt we’ll get to apply much of what we’ve learned up here. Then again, my friend, Jerry Bernhardt, will probably want me to work at his winery near Plantersville. Unless he has a gigantic grape-cleaning and squeezing machine, I’ll not hire on. I’d rather get a job scraping barnacles off of shrimp boats.
Mark can be contacted at email@example.com.