Like many of you, I grew up eating Concord grape jelly on peanut butter sandwiches. It wasn’t until this month, however, that I actually tasted my first locally grown Concord grapes. I was stunned by their incredible juiciness and sweetness. I now understand why people find them addictive and rushed home to make something delicious with them.
I’m sure you’ve tried all sorts of jams and desserts made with Concord grapes. But did you know they have a fascinating history?
In the 1800’s, a man named Ephraim Bull bought a cottage on seventeen acres of land in Concord, Massachusetts just down the street from his friends educator Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott and author of Little Women) and novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. When Ephraim moved to Concord, he was a gold beater – someone who beats gold into thin sheets for use in gilding. At some point he relinquished his profession to discover a new variety of grape.
Apparently, Bull cultivated 22,000 seedlings at his home before creating a fruit that could survive the harsh New England winters. The grape then required 6 years of cultivation before he could introduce it to the public. How’s that for dedication?
He named it the Concord grape, and when it was put on the market in Boston in 1854, it was a hit, earning Bull more than $3,200. Exciting, right? His small food business took off.
However, back in the day, there were no patents to protect plants. To make money, he began selling his vines at $5.00 a piece. (You know where this is headed, right?)
Along comes a clergyman named Thomas Welch, who loved the sweet juice so much he pasteurized it and made it into a nonalcoholic communion wine called “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine”. People loved it so he changed the name to Welch’s Grape Juice. He made a fortune.
Meanwhile Bull, received no money from the grape juice. He fell from a ladder trimming his grape vine and died. His epitaph reads, “He Sowed, Others Reaped.” Poor Ephraim. His house still stands and was recently sold. You need’t feel too sorry for him, though. He was successful as a Massachusetts Senator for 12 years.
Now that you know the history, you have to try the muffins. They’re one of my all time favorites. If you don’t have Concord grapes, don’t worry. They’re equally good with diced apples that have been tossed in a bit of cinnamon and sugar.
Concord Grape Muffins with Dark Chocolate Crumble
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 c milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. concord grapes
1 tbs. flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line muffin tin with paper liner and grease rims with butter (batter may overflow)
Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy
Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition
Stir in vanilla
Sift dry ingredients and add alternately with yogurt and milk
Squeeze each Concord grape to remove the skin and toss grape skins only with 1 tbs. flour. Fold in by hand
Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.
2/3 c almond meal
2 tbs flour
2/3 c brown sugar
2/3 c oatmeal
1/2 c good quality dark chocolate, chopped
4 tbs butter
Process ingredients in food processor until a crumble forms. Sprinkle crumble over muffin tops.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool for 30 minutes