A friend of mine and I were just discussing which of our senses we could live without. After a bit of thinking I had settled on smell— a decision directly related to living in a city where ambient smells are cheap, plentiful, confusing, and often punishing as summer wears on. But it’s autumn now, thankfully, and the air is crisp (or it’s going to be soon? Next week? By Halloween?), and if I couldn’t smell I’d miss some of the best things about this season…leaf piles, wood stoves, hot apple cider, and fresh concord grapes!
Want to get happy? My suggestion: stick your nose into a quart of fresh concords, and take a nice long inhalation. See? Errr, smell? That was fun, and now you’re ready to go to LEVEL II. For an even more decadent, aroma, I suggest you bake a batch of these Concord Grape Crumb Bars. Disclaimer: they’re not quick ‘n’ easy. But after the hard work in the kitchen is done (you must separate the grape skins from the “eyeballs”), simply sit back and surrender your senses to the irresistible synthesis of simmering grapes and browning, buttery, crumb crust.
Why You Should Heart Grapes: Concords are great for your heart! Studies suggest that including grapes and grape juice in one’s diet can improve blood flow by increasing the body’s production of Nitric oxide, which relaxes the blood vessels, which stimulates blood flow. And better blood flow just might make you smarter and sexier. FACT: Baking makes you sexier, and now you’re smarter too ‘cuz you know that.
Concord Grape Crumb Bars
1 lb. fresh concord grapes
1 Tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
16 Tbsp. butter, cold, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1. Separate grape skins from the “eyeballs” (pulp) by squeezing the fruits between your fingers, one at a time. Roughly blend just the skins in a food processor or with a stick blender. Place the pulp in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the grapes become liquidy and shapeless, about 10 minutes. Strain the pulp through a sieve into a large bowl to separate out the seeds. Discard seeds.
2. Combine grape skins, pulp, lemon juice, and 1 cup sugar in the same saucepan. Bring up to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is reduced and has thickened to a jam-like consistency, about 15 minutes more (note: the jam will thicken up a bit as it cools too). Remove the grape mixture from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.
3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, remaining sugar, and salt. With a pastry cutter or a pair of forks, cut in the egg and butter, gently working until the mixture is cohesive but still crumbly.
5. Press 2/3 of the crumbly dough into bottom of buttered baking dish. Spread grape jam evenly over dough. Top the jam with the remaining crumbly dough, allowing the jam to peek through in places. Bake until crumb topping is golden, about 45 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool for about an hour. Cut into squares and serve.
Adapted from Carrie Vasios’ recipe for Concord Grape Thyme Bars, from the book Serious Eats:Sweets