Each year it’s a contest between me and the birds to see who will get to the grape arbor and pick the Concord grapes first. More often than I care to admit, they win. What else do they have to do but sit guard over the grapes and other fruits in the garden?
The years I’ve been able to harvest a fine crop of Concord grapes, I’ve relished the smell of the grapes simmering when I’ve made grape juice and grape jelly. I covet my grape juice — it only comes out on special occasions. For the best flavor I mix it with honey.
Concord grapes are harvested in North America only one time per year, August until early November. Concord grapes are native to North America, dating back to 1854 when the variety made its debut in the village of Concord, Mass. Boston-born Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape in 1849 after experimenting with seeds from native species. He planted more than 22,000 seedlings before he produced the ideal grape.
News of his fame spread worldwide and his cuttings fetched up to $1,000, but he died a relatively poor man, with the inscription on his tombstone stating, “He sowed, others reaped.”
People often ask me about drinking juice and whether it should be included in the diet. If a person wants to drink juice, they should include a nutrient-packed product such as 100 percent Concord grape juice that has health-related benefits. There is no sugar added to 100 percent juice — the sugar you see on the label refers to naturally occurring fruit sugars in the grapes.
Studies show that Concord grapes may be one important ingredient for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Grape juice polyphenols have been shown to stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which can cause arterial relaxation. Concord grapes are believed to have an anti-clotting effect similar to red wine, and help support flexible arteries to promote healthy blood flow. People with risk factors for heart health issues often have impaired dilation, and can have increased stiffness of their arteries.
Concord grapes have been shown to help lower nocturnal blood pressure, an indicator of healthy blood pressure regulation. Normally, blood pressure drops at night. People who don’t show a drop in blood pressure at night are more likely to develop heart health issues.
Preliminary research suggested that a diet rich in antioxidants, such as those found in fruits, vegetables and their juices, can help slow and possibly even reverse age-related cognitive decline. One pilot human study of older adults with early memory impairment found that daily Concord grape juice consumption resulted in improved memory measures. More research in these areas needs to take place to see whether Concord grapes can affect cognitive health in humans.
The most popular blue and purple fruits and vegetables that account for almost 60 percent of those eaten are grapes, 100 percent grape juice, and raisins. There are other great sources, however, such as blackberries, blueberries, plums, dried plums and prunes, eggplant and purple cabbage.
Concord grapes are a wholesome, nutrient-dense plant food and a great purple food option. Just one four-ounce glass of 100 percent grape juice made with Concord grapes counts as a serving (or ½ cup) of purple fruit. You don’t usually find Concord grapes in the grocery store, they are grown mainly to make grape juice.
I can’t leave this discussion about grapes without briefly telling the history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Three products came together in World War II to create this favorite. Welch’s invented a grape jam called Grapelade in 1918. Bagged pre-sliced bread was created in 1928. To fulfill the need to get more protein into soldiers’ diets, peanuts were ground into a smooth, buttery consistency and put into their rations. Somewhere, a creative, hungry young man mixed his rations in a new way, and we have been enjoying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ever since.
For a recipe for Tangy Grape BBQ Meatballs, visit www.welchs.com.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.