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The Grape Arbor

Grape arbor
Photo by Terra Slaybaugh on Unsplash

My husband recently discovered a suspected Scuppernong grape vine on our property. It is an old untended vine, in need of pruning and care. He did manage to pluck the last handful of grapes and brought them into the kitchen. What an overwhelming sensory memory for me. I could not walk into the kitchen without smelling the strong aroma. He did not seem to notice the aroma at all.

The smell whisked me back to another place and time. A period of what seemed a time of abundance to me. I would not realize until decades later just how much hard work that abundance required.

Everyone in the Valley had a garden to provide food for their family. The nearest grocery store was a good 30 minute car ride away and not everyone had access to a car. Trips to the grocery store were planned and precise and combined with any other errands requiring a trip to town.

My grandparents had a grape arbor in the back yard. I have no idea if my grandfather built the arbor, but I feel like he must have. It was about five feet high and spanned 10 to 12 feet. The grapes were sweet and purple and luscious when warmed by the summer sun.

I am not sure what grapes grew there, but from my limited research it must have been something similar to a concord or Norton grape. There are a number of native grapes to this country and I have no way of knowing for sure what type of grapes these were.

Late summer was the beginning of preservation time. As harvests came in, the arduous task of preserving food for winter began. Canned fruits and vegetables, relishes, pickled cucumbers, beets, corn and beans and of course fruit jams, jellies and preserves.

My maternal grandmother made the most beautiful apple jelly from a grafted pound apple tree in her front yard. It was so pristine you could see completely through it. My paternal grandmother did not have apples, but she did have those grapes!

From the grapes, she made grape jam and jelly, grape juice and my grandfather made some grape wine which was squirreled away in the cellar. (I do remember sneaking down with my brother to ‘taste’ the wine. Needless to say, one taste of that homemade wine was enough to keep us from ever trying it again!)

Canning sieveThese old fashioned grapes were not seedless. I am sure we swallowed our fair share of the seeds over the years, but there was also a lot of spitting them out.

The seeds presented a challenge in the jam or jelly making process. My grandmother used a canning sieve and pestle similar to the one pictured and currently for sale on EBay.

The grape arbor was also a perfect shaded area to play under in the early spring. I often found the perfect hiding place for treasures I found along the creek bank between the vines and the rough-hewn trellis. Old match boxes were the perfect treasure box although they did not fare well in the rain.

We picked grapes and prepared lavish banquets displayed on old platters deemed unsuitable for the kitchen. Paired with crackers or slices of apples, it was a feast fit for kings.

As the summer progressed and the fruits became heavier, the arbor became a haven for the bees. Old fruit, fallen to the ground were often covered in bees dining on their over-ripe sweetness.

On cold winter mornings, fresh warm oven-toast would be the perfect host for a spoonful of grape jam. Leftover biscuits and cornbread were transformed into dessert when topped with the sweet grape jelly of summer.