Grapes come in many sizes and colors, from tiny ones that look like peppercorns to giants that could be mistaken for plums, from sparkling silver-green to deep purple-black.
Nearly 90 percent of the grapes grown for wine and table belong to the European species Vitis vinifera. This includes seedless table grapes like red Emperor, crunchy Flame and the oblong green Thompson, as well as famous wine varietals, such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Depending on the specific variety, grapes come to market from late spring through summer to early fall. Convenient to eat, grapes are most commonly enjoyed fresh as casual snacks or as garnish on platters. They frequently add color to salads; appear in classic sauces to accompany sautéed fish, meats and poultry; and can be added into breads or pastries.
Choose grape bunches with plump, firm fruits, passing over those with fruits that are soft, withered, bruised or easily brushed from their stems. Green grapes with a hint of yellow or amber are the ripest and sweetest. Red grapes should have no tinge of green in their skin. Grapes do not become sweeter once harvested.
Remove and discard any bruised or spoiled grapes. Keep grape bunches in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. To freeze whole grapes, spread small clusters or individual fruits on a baking sheet. Freeze completely and then transfer them to an airtight container and keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Since they are highly susceptible to pests and molds, most grapes have been treated with chemicals, so be sure to rinse well. Let drain on paper towels to dry. Since they are most flavorful at room temperature, remove grapes from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.
To seed grapes: Grapes are more easily seeded if halved first, but if you need to keep them whole, use a clean bobby pin to remove the seeds. Holding the two prongs of the pin, insert the crook into the stem end of the grape, hook the seeds and pull them out.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion (Time-Life Books, 2000).
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