Summer is waning, but when we say this, most people point us to the markets and say, whoa, slow down. Peaches are at their peak, corn is sweet and the melons perfume a whole block. The autumnal equinox is still months away -- Sept. 22 -- and we haven't even hit August yet.
It's because the Kyohos are here. These luscious table grapes fulfill our American lust for all things large and our nostalgic desire for grandma's Concord jelly and grape pie. Ha's Apple Farm doesn't so much sell them as curate them, with gangly clumps displayed delicately on individual plates, limiting the need for direct human contact and keeping the dark purple rounds of fruit dusted with their natural bloom. Their arrival means that summer is on its way out, and if you've put off putting up jars of stone fruits, pickles and summer vegetables, you'd best get cracking.
The bloom on many grape varieties is the powdery-white coating that clings to the skin. You're forgiven if you thought it was dust, pesticide or even naturally occurring yeast. Many vintners were saying one or all of these as recently as a few years ago. The bloom is actually waxy oleanolic acid, a naturally occurring triterpenoid, which doesn't mean much until you realize that it's antibacterial, antifungal and even has cancer-fighting properties. All that careful handling done by Ha's suddenly becomes practical. The Kyoho has a killer sugar content, making it susceptible to fermentation in the skins. The bloom protects the grape from moisture loss and decay, and from inadvertently becoming wine in your fruit bowl.
The grapes' sweetness varies a little from year to year depending on rain and heat, but most ripe Kyohos can measure out to a good 18 to 20 brix, roughly the same amount of sugar found in a nice, jammy apricot.
Ha's Apple Farm is our primary local grower of the Kyoho. It's a Japanese cross of the Concord that produces large marble-sized fruit with a nearly black skin. Younger harvests are nearly seedless, but these have been out for two weeks already, so expect a few seeds. No matter: The flesh is ample enough to shift the annoyance level down to nothing. Select for tender green stems and firm fruit, and store in the refrigerator unless you intend to eat immediately. Keep the bloom on until you are ready to eat them to extend their shelf life. They're best for fresh eating, though they do make a velvety sorbet and a juicy jam. Use the Concord grape jam recipe from the Center for National Home Food Preservation and sub in the Kyohos.
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You can find Ha's Apple Farm at multiple farmers markets, including Pasadena, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Monrovia and Santa Monica.
Kyohos will be around through the middle of August, and when they go, that's usually when we heave a heavy sigh. Then again, this is Southern California, so summer isn't so much a season as a state of mind -- and it means we can start planning for persimmons and pomegranates.
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