Preserved: Pickled Grapes with Citrus and Spice
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.
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?
I 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.
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.