I must share with you the final tally in our effort to save our concord grapes from the rats. We put up eighteen pies’ worth of concord grapes in the freezer– this is seventy two cups after stemming. So yes, it was worth the labor and the invention of rat proofs!
Oven 400 F
9″ unbaked pie shell
3/4 c flour
1/2 c sugar
cut in 1/3 c butter until crumbly
Filling: Combine these three ingredients thoroughly.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
dash of salt
1 Tb lemon juice or more
1 Tb melted butter
4 cups concord-type grapes
Slip the skins from the grapes and put the sugar combination with the skins in a bowl. Simmer the grape innards until very soft, soft enough to easily press through a sieve to remove the seeds. I have tried other methods but none work as well as this one. Mix the now seedless grape pulp with the other filling ingredients including the melted butter and lemon juice. Pour into the pie crust and scatter the crumbly topping over the top before baking for 40 to 50 minutes. Best served at room temperature, not hot.
Now is the season for too much– and too many. I am swamped with plumcots, those speckled crosses between apricots and plums, the garnet hue shocking under the frosted skin. I have a few in a basket here mixed with a few of my Harrold Red apples, and as you see I have polished up a few so you can see the difference.
Here is possibly my favorite use for such fruit. It’s an adaptable simple recipe that tolerates haste and imperfection but still tastes both fresh and happy in the mouth. Not a pretty cake but full of flavor, using the whole wheat to give a nuttiness that showcases the fruit.
Robin’s Rude Fresh Fruit Cake
Rude in the sense of rough, but perfectly well-mannered enough for any company.(Apple, Pineapple, Pear, Peach, Plumcot, any of these or more will work.)
Sift if you insist, or otherwise simply mix in a 9″ x 13″ deep sided baking pan, no need to grease it:
1 1/2 cups standard white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 heaping tablespoon psyllium husk (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
Throw together in a bowl:
3/4 cup vegetable oil (canola or grape seed work well)
3 eggs slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup of golden raisins (optional– I often forget this.)
3 to 6 cups of coarsely chopped (about 1″ chunks but don’t get obsessive– both smaller and bigger will work) cored fruit, skins included. I like about 6 cups but have been rumored to exceed even that. If you go overboard the cake becomes more and more like a pudding!
Mix the wet and dry ingredients casually together– use your fingers if you like, in the baking dish until there are no big areas of the dry stuff and place in a preheated 375 degree oven. Bake for about 45 minutes and test with a toothpick for doneness. Try not to overbake. You want the batter cooked, nicely set to a crumb, but not hard. If you overbake it and it seems too dry, douse with a half cup of cider or the like while still hot, concentrating on the edges of the pan.
Note— if you want this to be more like an upside down cake you could place half or more of the fruit on the bottom of the pan, mixing the rest into the batter before topping it.
We have been harvesting the concord grapes and my little rat proofs have worked. If you try it, I have a couple of observations.
One, simply having these strange objects in the vines will decrease rat activity. It won’t stop the little brats, but there will be less damage. Two, a trick I learned over the past week is that if some bunches ripen and you take then out, re-use the rat proof, and the moving about of these containers will also dismay the rats. Every day that I made such changes, the activity of rats decreased markedly the following night, and then increased again the night after. Last of all, we were right to say that some grapes might ‘cook’ in the plastic containers– but this only affected grape clusters out in the full sun. All of this said– we have four baskets of grapes and I plan to initiate processing tomorrow to freeze up the makings for a passel of grape pies for fall and winter!
I am done with these rats. Traps do not suffice, poison feels unethical and gives a horrible death, the tricks of radios and deterrents are fantasies. Plus, I refuse to have an outdoors cat because of traffic, coyotes, parasites, and the mass slaughter of birds and my delightful lizards. But these rats are eating my Concord grapes– even before they ripen….
Of course I must backtrack and say that if you have been reading this blog for recipes, you will have seen my post about the wonders of Concord grape pie, complete with instructions. We love that pie. Consider therefore, our dismay this spring when I reached for two of my frozen Concord grape pie fillings and could only find one bag. I could have sworn I had at least another couple stashed in the big chest freezer. Our dismay inspired a defrost– it was time anyway, but still after a complete clean-out, only one little pie’s worth of grape filling remained in hand.
So these are desperate times, and despite our drought I have had it in mind that this year’s harvest of Concords will be carefully husbanded for future grape pies.
Now, enter the rats. No not the ones you are thinking of, these are our lovely little Neotoma fuscipes, the dusky footed woodrat. also known as the Trade Rat, Roof Rat, or Pack rat. A charming elegant creature fond of climbing in trees, indeed, with some habits that might make you think of tree squirrels. This is the fellow who is known for filching treasures from campers and, in the old days prospectors and miners, leaving treasures in apparent exchange. (Thus ‘trade’ rat.) They have a fondness for bright, shiny, or odd things– in fact I may have already mentioned that I found a nest in my studio that contained many pink, white and blue plastic beads, a cheap wristwatch, a number of nuts and pebbles, plus forty three (yes, I counted them,) clear-head plastic push pins. The mere idea of the rat carrying these in his or her mouth makes my lips hurt.
But the bad news is that Neotoma likes fruit. Thus I have the little fellows gracefully scampering through my orange trees and hollowing out the sweetest fruit, and they even eat my tomatoes. No gardener is going to take that without a struggle. The tomatoes put me into the red zone, so to speak, and I started trapping. But Nature is infinite and hates a vacuum, so you can trap rats all you like, yet in a drought year the sources for new ones are infinite.
I bring you to the morning I step out, brimming steaming coffee cup in hand, to see the tell-tale signs of knocked-down grapes on my side patio by the kitchen garden.
Rage. Council of war with my spouse who is possibly even more fond of grape pie than I … maybe. Possibly not.
If you cannot take out the enemy, take away access. Cheap plastic food containers, drilled to accommodate the stem,
cut so that you can open and slide the stem in,
then cap with the tight fitting lid.
Try not to have these hang too much in the sun because you don’t want pre-cooked grapes.
Triumph. A solution for the pie hungry family!
I’m posting this one because I came across it in the pursuit of something quite different. However it illustrates what I think portraits should do– depict body language more than features, and give a sense of context. Here are three people I know well, exploring the land they love.
I took this photo of two of our cats a few days ago and had no idea until I downloaded it what a funny and deceptive image had resulted. The flame and snow cat weighs about fourteen pounds. The little tabby blotch is near nine pounds. In this picture however, despite their very normal proportions in reality, we get a Giant cat and a Tiny cat. Compare the apparent size of their heads!