Friday, August 20, 2010

Wild Grapes


As a child, Thag's mother and several kids in her neighborhood had an ingeniuos idea. They would collect the freely growing and abundant wild grapes growing nearby, make them into jelly, sell them, and split the profits. These grapes were big. They spent the afternoon peeling them and mashing out the juice. After a while, they all started to itch, their skin burning. One boy was so swollen and in so much pain he went to the emergency room.


At a simlar time, a state away, Thag's father and the boys in his neighborhood thought to take the clusters of wild grapes and have a grape war, pelting them at each other and smooshing them down the others' backs. As they wiped their eyes with their grape juice covered hands, their eyes began to burn and swell up. One boy's eye was swollen shut. They all got to stay home from school the next day.


The burning, itching, and swelling were caused by tartrate, a chemical in wild grapes that is extremely bitter and painful after exposed contact. One can only eat a few wild grapes fresh or will be beseiged by the tartrate. So, to use them, you must juice them, and while juicing them, you must avoid contact with the juice. This was made more difficult for us because I could only find one rubber glove under the sink. So I made some wild grape juice one handed.


First I mashed the grapes with a mug and then, more succesfully, a potato masher in a large plastic bucket.


Secondly, I put the grapes a handful at at time into a jelly bag and then squeezed them (with my gloved hand) over a large plastic measuring cup.


I, then, poured the juice into a large mason jar.


This process is quite messy. (Check out the picture of grape carnage above.) And cleaning it up is a bit of a challenge as you can't touch the juice and I only had one plastic glove. I ended up with a lovely purple stain on my table leg. Fortunately it matches perfectly the shade of purple marker Baby Yub Yub used to decorated the kitchen chair earlier this week.


This mason jar is now in the fridge. The tartrate should settle to the bottom in an unappetizing sludge. Tomorrow or the next day, we will pour off the juice on top which should be tartrate free. Then we can use the juice for jelly or mix it with a sweeter juice as it is supposedly very sour.

15 comments:

  1. As I mentioned to you, I have thankfully not had this reaction. I have eaten lots of fresh wild grapes and processed quantities of grapes into juice without protection. Also, it is interesting that none of my books mention it, even the poisonous plant book. I did find some references to this kind of reaction online. See: http://www.wildfoods.info/wildfoods/wildgrape.html and the article and the comments at http://www.texashomesteader.com/2009/07/15/wild-grape-jelly/ I always wait for colder weather before harvesting grapes. They are sweeter and more palatable then. I wonder if that makes a difference in terms of allergic reactions? Or perhaps it’s the type of grape as the person at that first link suggests: “All grape juice is said to contain tartrate, but the quantity varies considerably from one kind of grape to another. Summer grape contains much, riverside grape even more, and muscasdine and fox grapes contain very little.” I don’t think I’ve gathered summer grapes. At any rate, I’ll be more cautious with my handling of wild grape pulp and juice.

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  2. thanks- i know i won't die now- though my hands are burning from squeezing a bunch of wild grapes. i wonder if they have more tartrate since they weren't totally ripe? i don't remember this happening last year!

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  3. I have to question whether all that caution is truly warranted. I have snacked on thousands of wild grapes whilst meandering through the woods foraging and have never encountered the slightest ill effects from them (save purple fingers), nor have I ever found even the slightest bitterness in them. I will note that it may be important make sure only to harvest RIPE berries, as I have found some reference to bitterness and undesirable compounds in young grapes when they are not yet darkly colored. Happy hunting! Gil

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  4. We have a wild grape vine growing on our back fence; the slightest contact with just the leaves causes a poison-ivy-like reaction on my skin that lasts for days, itching constantly. I'm more sensitive than most, it seems, and you, Gil, seem to be less sensitive. Caution, until you're sure you aren't sensitive to the chemical, is warranted, because the itching and burning can be really miserable if you are!

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    1. Got to research more about this. Why do some people have such adverse reactions and others seem to be able to feast on wild grapes with abandon? We'll have to post more about this soon.

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    2. I am on here researching because as we speak my hands are on fire from stemming the grapes I am using for jelly. The strange this is that as a child I did not have a reaction. It is only in the last few years that I have started noticing it. I don't get a rash, but my dad does something awful.

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    3. It's July 2015.I got it to.Regular green grape vine.

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  5. I was talking to a friend about the terrible itching that my husband had had and now I was having. I told her I didn't see any poison ivy or anything that looked suspicious. She asked me if we had wild grape, which we do. My husband came into contact with it this year and his eyes were swollen shut and he had a terrible itching on his arm. Now I have had the same itching for a week. The strange thing is that I know I have handled this plant with no problems before, but I feel pretty certain this plant is the culprit.

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    1. YES! I had a terrible reaction weeding this out of my garden years ago. Very similar to poison ivy. Had the same problem several times since then. Takes 3 weeks to fully heal.Terrible reaction.

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  6. I have a recipe for grape juice where you put in whole grapes and sugar and hot water bath them for 20 minutes. Can you use wild grapes with this process?

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  7. Made my first jelly last night. Had no reaction to the berries and I am allergic (epi pen ) to just about everything. HOWEVER the mess smelled like dirt or beets which to me smell like dirt and is very bitter. My son who likes it a lot (16) has informed me it has a pretty serious laxative effect. So it seems I have made a purple bitter tasting laxative for toast. Any ideas where I went wrong. The berries tasted bitter to start with. Were nice and dark, small and most of the clumps were all ripe or at least very dark. They were not sweet at all.

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    1. Make sure they are not Canada Moonseed berries instead of wild grapes. Canada moonseed is very similar and highly toxic and poisonous.

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  8. Make sure it wasn't Canada moonseed which is very similar to wild grapes but highly toxic (poisoness)

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  9. I ate some when i was a kid. I remember my mouth felt funny and itched. The next morning it looked like i had been hit in the mouth with a bat. Lips swelled and burst. So raw i had adhesions. Inside my mouth was bad. Doctor said it was a bad allergy. He said it could have killed me if it had gone down my throat.

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  10. Sorted and mashed a big batch of muscadines, now all our hands are prickly and swollen. Hoped I'd wake and it would be gone, but still here. Tried baking soda in water soaking my hands, but it did little. Tried coconut oil which often helps with skin reactions, but little relief. Going to take some ibuprofen for the swelling, and hope its gone tomorrow.

    Gloves. Gloves. Gloves.

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