[Photograph: Lucy Baker]

Pickled grapes have been in the back of my mind for a long time now. I love salty, briny pickles and I love sweet, juicy grapes. Plus, I'm always on the lookout for something easy, unusual, and delicious to serve as hors d'oeuvre or alongside a cheese plate. Plus, pickled grapes are relatively healthy. You'll feel much more virtuous popping them in your mouth than say, a handful of roasted nuts or high-calorie olives.

20110104-130981-pickled-grapes-2.jpg The first recipe for pickled grapes I looked at was in Toni Lydecker's cookbook, Serves One. It involves a simple brine of white wine vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, and minced onion, simmered together and then poured over red grapes.

It looked easy enough, but I wanted something with a bit more spice.

Next, I consulted Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life, and the blog Smitten Kitchen, which features an adapted version on Molly's recipe. It includes mustard seeds and black peppercorns along with the cinnamon, but again, it seemed a little ho-hum. Plus, the procedure called for trimming the stem end of every single grape with a pairing knife. Who has time for that?

20110104-130981-pickled-grapes-1.jpgI rooted around in my pantry and kitchen for inspiration and came up with a jar of fennel seeds, a lemon, and an orange. The fennel seeds offer a hint of licorice (almost like throwing a star anise in each jar), and a few strips of lemon and orange peel gave the grapes a citrusy zing. After simmering all the ingredients for my brine together in a pot, I let the whole thing chill out for an hour before pouring it over the grapes. That way they pickled instead of cooked, and retained their crunchy-firm texture.

After a night in the fridge my grapes were ready to eat. I unscrewed the lid from one jar and speared a nice fat one. The flavor was an amazing combination of sweet and sour, unlike any other pickled-thing I've tasted before. The sugar and white wine vinegar created a syrup that lightly coated the grapes and infused them with a mellow tanginess. I could definitely taste the cinnamon and citrus, but the fennel, black pepper, and mustard kept the grapes from being too fruity.

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These are not the sort of salty, dilly pickles you serve with sandwiches. Rather, I fantasized about serving them with funky microbrews at a craft beer tasting. The complex flavors and the play between sweet and savory would lead to some awesome pairings.

This recipe yields two pint-sized jars of pickled grapes. They will keep for one month in the fridge. One jar and a six-pack of different beers would make a great gift.


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