The ancestors of today’s rhubarb were wild plants growing in Asia. Rhubarb eventually traveled to Europe, where it was appreciated for its medicinal qualities before it was used in the kitchen. Grapes, on the other hand, are an ancient fruit grown by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Grapes can be divided into two broad color groups: red or green. Within these general categories, grapes are distinguished from each other as those having seeds or those that are seedless.
Look for crisp, firm stalks without blemishes or cuts and with good color. Avoid stalks that are turning from red or pink to green. Any leaves attached to the stalks should be fresh looking, not wilted, although the leaves should not be eaten.
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. Bloom is a naturally occurring white powdery substance that covers freshly harvested grapes.
Whole stalks can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Store them in the crisper in perforated plastic bas. To enjoy rhubarb long after its season has passed, cut the stalks into chunks, put into heavy-duty plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to 8 months.
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.
Trim away the leaves and stalk ends and peel any brown spots. If stalks are fibrous, remove the strings with a vegetable peeler. Stalks that are more than 11/2 inches wide should be halved lengthwise.
Since they’re 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.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)
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