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Kansas grapes sweet as can be

September 28th, 2007 · 2 Comments · local food

Imagine my surprise when I picked up a friend’s CSA bag yesterday and confronted a quart box of grapes.

Kansas grapes, photo by Janet Majure

Now, I knew that people grow grapes in Kansas, but I thought they were generally for wine. (See end of this post for a list of wineries.)

I wasn’t aware of anybody growing table grapes. Bob Lominska, one of the farmers at Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance, by accident discovered that Davenport Orchards and Winery in Eudora does. He talked to Greg Shipe, who owns Davenport with his wife, Charlee, about picking some for Rolling Prairie customers who’ve been suffering from local fruit deprivation.

Grapes satisfy

They made a deal, and Bob went out and picked 300 pounds, which Rolling Prairie distributed this week to its customers. He said picking was fun…Biblical, in a way. In any event, some of those grapes were in Diane’s bag. Although they aren’t organic, unlike the preponderance of produce from Rolling Prairie, Bob said Greg said he uses integrated pest management, which is better than a wholesale poisonfest.

Bob says these are Mars grapes, and I believe him. But I have no frame of reference. My grape experience consists of wine, raisins, Concord grape juice (very limited experience) and jelly, white grape juice (ditto), and California table grapes. Thompson seedless would be the only table grape variety I could name. I imagine just about everyone in the U.S. has tasted these ubiquitous green seedless grapes at one time or another. I’ve also eaten nameless red and black California table grapes.

Grape taste

Nothing in my grape experience, though, tastes like these babies. They’re small—a half inch or less in diameter—and remind me of nothing so much as ripe plums. Besides having very tender and juicy innards like ripe-off-the-tree plums, the grapes also have a pretty sour skin.

The Arkansas site above notes that these are slipskin grapes, and for good reason. Bite down on one, and the skin slides right off the flesh. How convenient! If you don’t want to fully savor the skins’ sourness, you can swallow them without chewing. You won’t need to, though. The supersweet, plummy interior combines with the sour skin for a nice, sweet and sour mixture of taste and texture.

I’d tell you go to try some, but Bob says he pretty well cleaned them out at Davenport. (I didn’t reach the owners and am too impatient to leave a message and wait.) He says he also encouraged Greg to plant more for the future. We’ll see how that goes.

I think I’ll try to resist eating them all so that Diane can taste some of her grapes when she gets back in town. By the way, I gather Mars are considered “blue” grapes. They look red to me, so don’t adjust your monitor. Some of the darker ones, however, do have a bit of a bluish cast to the matte “finish” over the red skin.

Now, here’s the list of Kansas vineyards, most available at the preceding link. Don’t know whether any of the others grow table grapes. Do you?

  • Campbell Vineyard & Winery, Holton
  • Davenport Orchards & Vineyard, Eudora
  • Dozier Winery & Vineyard, Ellinwood
  • Emerson Carey Vineyards & Winery, Haven
  • Graue Vineyard /Middle Creek Winery, Louisburg
  • Heimhof Winery, Leavenworth
  • Holyfield Vineyard & Winery, Basehor
  • Jefferson Hill Farm & Winery, McLouth
  • Kuglers Vineyard, Lawrence
  • Ozlandia, Lindsborg
  • Pome on the Range Orchards & Winery, Williamsburg
  • Slough Creek Vineyard, Oskaloosa
  • Smoky Hill Vineyards & Winery, Salina
  • Sognare Vineyard & Winery, Iola
  • Somerset Ridge Vineyard & Winery, Paola
  • Vintners Cellar Winery of Derby, Derby
  • Windswept Winery/ Storey Vineyards, Udall
  • Wyldewood Cellars, Peck

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