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Grape Skin Flour Bread

(post, Judith Klinger)

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Grape Skin Flour Bread
Happy World Bread Day! 

The grapes were ripe, hanging, full, needing to be picked. Signor Bruschi let us know that it was time to pick them. We asked if he wanted any, and he laughed and said no. I knew we had to get them off the vine, but then what?? I mean, what do you do with about 20 kilos of grapes? These are ‘uva americana’, a sweet table grape very similar to the Concord grape, so wine was out of the question, we don’t really eat much jam and a cake would use up only one bunch out of the 20 kilos. I was sitting in the kitchen with my friend Deborah when we came across a recipe for grape skin flour bread in Richard Bertinet’s outstanding bread book, “Crust”. 
Bertinet had one up on me because someone gifted him with the already finished grape flour and all I had was an enormous vat of grapes in need of attention. What good luck! I also had willing friends who actually agreed to help me squish grape bodies out of their grape skins. There was talk of repetitive motion disorder, but the grumbling was surprisingly muted and eventually all the grapes were separated from their skins. 

Now I had a huge pot of grape bodies and a sopping wet pile of skins. Fortunately Andrew has a mechanical mind and we came up with a sort of press motion to squeeze the excess juice out of the skins. 

The next step was too slowly dry the skins in the oven. This allowed us plenty of time to figure out what to do with the grape bodies. I bottled the first batch of juice from the grapes that had not subjected to any squeezing. That part was easy and the juice is pale pink and very sweet. Pressing juice out of those roly-poly grape bodies was another adventure and I still don’t have an answer. I tried the hand food mill, then I tried the food processor and the grapes absolutely loved the massage in both machines. They rolled around laughing and gave up not a drop of juice. Thinking I would teach them a lesson, I froze the semi-pureed grapes, based on the technique where freezing fruit breaks the cell membrane, releasing juice and flavor. The grapes were not the least bit bothered by the freezing; they retained all of their plump roundness and juice. I finally gave up, poured the ecto-plasmic looking green slurry into a bottle. Andrew actually drank some of it, but none of us could get the past the slimy texture. I think there is a reason why you don’t hear much about home squeezed grape juice. 

 I soon realized that the nagging song in the back of my head was the theme song from the Flintstones; playing over and over and over in my head, until it dawned on me that the house, with the drying grape skins, smelled exactly like the inside of a Welch’s grape jelly jar. Actually, by now, most of our street smelled like a grape jelly jar. Do they still make those little jelly jars printed with cartoon characters?

Eventually the skins had dried to the point where I could pulverize them, and I would have given anything to have my Vita-Mix here to help me. The food processor did an ok job, but it had to be done in small batches, sifted, re-processed, and then sifted a few more times.  I had entered full obsession mode, I’m wondering if it was a side effect of sniffing so much grape skin dust? Grape skins are said to be full of anti-oxidants, so I figure there isn’t an oxidant alive anywhere in my body. Does anyone know, is that a good or a bad thing??

Finally it was time to mix and knead the bread and I basically followed Bertinet’s formula, but wound up tweaking it a bit because it was feeling too dense. I think I may also have had to compensate for the residual sugar in the skins as Bertinet’s recipe used cabernet sauvignon grapes, which are nowhere near as sweet as the uva Americana.  I opted for a classic roll shape for the bread, nothing fancy, just an easy to eat, share and store shape. 

The color of the dough was a deep, flecked brown and once baked it took on a slightly more purplish hue, but if you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was a dark rye bread from the appearance.  We sampled our rolls and it was a unanimous decision…we all loved the bread! It was chewy, flavorful, very hearty, and tasted fantastic with a hard dry salami. The salty, meaty flavor of the salami brought out the unique essence of this bread. Of course, it really made me crave some country style pate to go with the bread, but this being Umbria, it means I have to make the pate myself. It was about this time, when I announced a pate making adventure, that my willing and adventurous kitchen partners all changed the subject. Even when I promised to get the meat from a butcher and not start with raising and slaughtering, they were still content to stay with the salami. Weenies!

For those of you less inclined to grow the grapes, and make your own flour, I did find an online source for the flour, so you can skip right to the fun part. 

Happy World Bread Day!