It will soon be time to prune our grape vines and home gardeners can take a date cue from local vineyards. Even though the ornamental grape provides head-turning crimson glory in autumn, the fruiting grape makes a decorative shade cover for pergolas and it brings the edible bonus.
My vine, planted by a previous owner more than 30 years ago, fringes the carport and shades the garden shed. It is a muscatel so the bunches of grapes are black and sweet. Friends and locals eat them straight off the stems as they visit or walk past my place. Birds like them too.
The crop is never sprayed which does mean that the foliage is sometimes spotted and unable to be used either fresh or pickled for vine-leaf stuffed treats like dolmades. On a platter with cheese, nuts and crackers a bunch of muscatel grapes goes well with a glass of wine - especially a dessert wine like muscat.
Some of my friends, male and female, are very knowledgeable about wine. They enjoyed recent letters to the editor to The Canberra Times which amusingly referred to the palate flavours as described by the wine writer on this page.
On June 8, John Lewis described a d'Arenberg 2019 The Feral Fox pinot noir. According to the wine maker, Chester Osborn, the Adelaide red is called Feral Fox because "foxes have developed an appetite for the pinot noir grapes, eating lower hanging berries. That enhances the quality of the grapes they can't reach and has a fox laxative effect that 'provides a natural source of vine fertiliser'."
The story appealed to my pals (and me, as a pinot drinker) and two of them, in unison, immediately said "Aesop's Fables". Out came my 110-year-old copy of Les Fables de la Fontaine by Kathleen FitzGerald, published in French, in London (Arden Press). Le Renard et Les Raisins led to the expression "sour grapes" as the fox could not reach the higher grapes so stalked off saying they were probably sour. The book had belonged to my great aunt who always served dried muscatels after Christmas dinner.
Foxes play havoc with backyard chickens in Canberra, unless you have constructed a barrier that is deep into the ground as they often dig down, and high enough that it is unable to be jumped or climbed. A friend from Melbourne has sent me a clipping from The Age (June 3) where it was reported that wild foxes had reclaimed the abandoned site of the Rising Arts Festival, co-directed by Hannah Fox. The festival was cancelled due to a Covid lockdown and foxes were attracted to the Sidney Myer Music Bowl that had been transformed into a bamboo light maze on an ice rink.
Had the foxes been more experimental, they could have made verjuice - the juice of unripe grapes - to sauce their stolen sources of bird dinner. Maggie Beer is the doyenne of verjuice in Australian and, when reviewing her book Cooking with Verjuice in 2001, I included her reference to Taillevent, master cook to King Charles V of France, in which verjuice was used as a base ingredient as early as 1375.
Taillevent's real name was Guillaume Tirel. Anne Willan in Great Cooks and their Recipes (1977) records that he was kitchen boy to Queen Jeanne of France where he had to turn the great roasting spits before an open fire. His collection of recipes Le Viandier de Taillevent was recopied and reprinted until 1694.
Beer first made verjuice in 1984 with a tonne of Rhine riesling grapes hand-picked during a heatwave. She suggested verjuice-infused toasted mushrooms and potatoes with capers plus a grape and verjuice daiquiri made with golden rum - that should knock the foxes' socks off.
We have a treat to share as a giveaway to a gardener who needs warming up. It is the glamorous version of the recipe described in Food & Wine by Linda Lambrechts last week. Gewurzhaus makes a German winter classic called Gluhwein Gewurz. It contains wild hibiscus, orange peel, clove, lemon peel, star anise, cinnamon, cassia and pepper and it smells fantastic. The small paper spice packet comes with a packet of vanilla bean sugar made from fine seeds from Madagascan tropical climbing orchid pods. There are also disposable Japanese teabag paper infuser bags.
To make a brew, add two teaspoons of the gluhwein spice to an infuser bag and tie it shut. Pour a bottle of red wine into a large pot, add the infuser bag and 60g vanilla bean sugar and gently heat for up to 30 minutes. Serve with sliced oranges or a cinnamon quill accompanied by a dish of pork, square of chocolate or a fruit compote.
To win, tell me which wine you would choose and what you might eat with the gluhwein. Email with your name and address to email@example.com.