Cherries are to the start of summer as grapes are to the end of it. Yes, we're still in July, but this is when we start to see the seasonal harvests switch gears into later-bearing crops. This past week we noted — in part because a woman next to us squealed in delight — one of our favorite grapes, the large and juicy Kyoho, which made their annual debut at the Ha's Apple Farm (Tehachapi) tables.
We were also pleased to see a high quality crop of evenly-colored Red Flame grapes over at K&K Farms (Orosi). Truth be told, we've actually been enjoying both muscats and inky purple Thomcord grapes from Murray Family Farms (Bakersfield) for the past few weeks already. Autumn Royals, Concords, and wine grapes aren't far behind, which is good to hear. Last year's harvest was significantly delayed, by almost three weeks in some regions, thanks to cooler weather. Crossed fingers and more predictable weather patterns are yielding both timely and abundant harvests this year.
The picture above pretty much sums up where we sit in the season right now. We're bidding goodbye to a few stone fruit crops — apricots and some early varieties of pluots and peaches — and saying hello to grapes, and very soon, pears and apples. We've even spied a few very early pomegranates, though so far the tastings have been early-harvest mediocre.
Kyohos, with their giant — think oversized marble — nearly black fruit and slightly musky flavor and aroma, are a crowd favorite, though take note to eat them quickly. Kyohos have an incredibly high sugar content, and when left out at room temperature can easily start to ferment within their skins within a few days of picking. Store them cold, or better yet, gel them into a pie filling, jam, or churn into grape ice cream. It's a pleasantly versatile grape, and while most will tell you it's seedless, it's really not. Usually those first few young pickings will be seedless and the crop will develop seeds as the season progresses, but this year's crop left the gate with a seed in every bite.
The Red Flames at K&K Farms, and at many other growers, are surprisingly juicy and sweet for a first round harvest. We sometimes pop a whole stem's worth into the freezer and enjoy the fruit icy cold for dessert, though this year we've also taken to soaking them in brandy and roasting on foil over hot coals alongside our grilled meat of choice.
When choosing your grapes, select for good even coloring — they don't ripen after being picked — and firm green stems. Dried-out brown stems mean the grapes have been sitting around for a while. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if the fruit looks plump and juicy, but it does mean the shelf life of your fruit is considerably shorter.
The markets will be cycling through many different grape varieties between now and October, so pace yourself and keep an eye out for less common varieties, like the inky dark Niabell. Also, a plea to grape growers: we're holding out hope that someone local has managed to obtain cuttings of the rosy, honey-flavored heirloom Bronx grape from Lagier Ranches up in Napa, currently the only producer of Bronx grapes in the state. They don't travel well, thanks to a thin skin that splits too easily, but the flavor is unmatched. Maybe a trip up north is in order.