Pickled Grapes

grapes BW

Hot, hot. It’s a dry sauna in here! You could actually fry an egg on the sidewalk. And yet some things, native plants and creatures, thrive in this heat. At the moment, I am functioning with hardly any house-help. Kumari is away (for more than a month now) to her village in Bihar; Babloo, the presswala (for those who may not know, the chap who wields the “press” or iron, to iron our clothes!), also from Bihar, went away for a few weeks to make the most of his children’s summer vacations (he got back this morning!). He was also filling in for Chandu, who comes weekday mornings to wipe down the cars. So, I have had my hands more than full. The gardener, though in town, was a bit down in spirits, and there I was, watering the plants every other scorching evening. Yes, it doesn’t cool down even in the evenings. It become less hot, but never cool, till the monsoons arrive. No wonder we make so much song and dance about the Monsoon Season; yes, it is its own season – Saavan – in these parts, and much celebrated in Indian literature, paintings, and music.

On that first evening when I picked up the hose, I also decided to turn the pots to get even light on the less exposed sides. And, there was this tiny nest in the Ficus in the corner! The mystery of the chirpy sunbirds tailorbirds every morning explained! I rotated the plant back, so that the nest continued to stay hidden. A few days later, I became the anxious “carer” not having spotted the parents birds all afternoon and believing the nest to have been abandoned. I took a peek, and there they were, four tiny hatchlings in the nest! Google came to the rescue as always and I researched on how many hours hatchlings can survive without parent attention. I learned, with a heavy heart, that it is best to leave them alone and not care for them even if they have been abandoned. Ah, but come evening, there she was, the mother tailorbird! All was well after all. I resolved to take no more peeks lest I scare the parents to abandon their babies.

A couple of days later I saw two baby birds sprawled under the tree with no parents in sight. These were still not at the fledgeling stage, not ready to spread their wings just yet. I crossed my fingers and piled them back into their nest. Two days later, there they were, two of them on the terrace floor, this time with some feathers visible. One moving about a little, and the other seemingly dying. It was a drop of a good four feet from the nest. In a few hours he seemed to have picked himself up and both were trying out their wings. One was still around the following day (or was it the third one?) hopping about till the gardener arrived and unleashed the chaos of activity around the poor little fledgling. Soon, there was no trace of it. The parents had, likely, scooped it out of potential harm’s way. Two days later, I took a peek at the nest, expecting to see a dead hatchling or two, which is quite normal. It is rare for the entire clutch to make it to maturity. No dead birds!

My terrace garden has proved a super-safe habitat for tiny birds! I still see adult sunbirds tailorbirds hopping about in the grapevine. This year Bulbuls too, in addition to those pesky squirrels, have been feasting on the ripening grapes. Yesterday, I took down some ripened bunches from my heirloom vines. I’ll call them “heirloom” to make all of you envious, rather than saying that they have seeds. Giant seeds. Seeds the size of orange pips.

But, did you know that the grape-seed is full of antioxidants? The pulp contains just 10% of the flavonoids in a grape! The seed, the skin, and the pedicel (the little stem that attaches the grape to the main stem) contain the remaining 90%! Now, most of us, used to seedless grapes over time, can no longer enjoy the seed in the grape, and spitting them out also gets tedious after the first handful. I don’t think I am ready to try wine-making just yet. What I did with a small batch a couple of years back was to pickle them! Yes, grape pickle is for real! Made in the manner of the usual vinegar-based western pickles, they can stay in the refrigerator indefinitely. The best part of pickling my heirloom grapes is that with time the mouth-puckering taste of the grape seeds gives way to just a nice crunch which is great in sandwiches and salads! I get the goodness of the flavanoids and a condiment that is very, very out of the ordinary. The first time I had used only peppercorns to spice the pickle. But this time I went all out and piled them on including allspice (finally opened the packet I bought in Kerala, err, a couple of years ago?!) and chillies.


Here’s the recipe. Try to find grapes that have seeds, or grow a vine of your own. It is easy enough to grow, gives shade in the this awfully hot summer, and will also give you leaves to make dolmas!

filled jars 3 oooh pickled grapes!

Pickled Heirloom Grapes

5-6 cups heirloom grapes (you could use seedless, I suppose 🙂 )
2 1/3 C white vinegar
1 1/2 C water
3T sugar
1 1/2 T sea salt
1T coriander seeds
1T allspice
1T peppercorns
1T white mustard seeds
1 heaped T red chilli flakes
1 stick cinnamon (break into smaller pieces to distribute into the jars)
3 bay leaves (if you don’t have these, substitute with tejpatta)

Rinse grapes and pluck them off the stems.  Some recipes recommend spearing the grapes, making a cross at the top, or taking a small slice off the top to allow the flavours to penetrate easily.  My grapes are so fresh and crisp that snapping them off the stem causes the skin to burst so I left them intact. [For my previous batch, I had halved them.] Fill clean glass jars (with plastic, not metal, lids) with prepared grapes. In a non-reactive pan heat the rest of the ingredients.  Simmer till the sugar has dissolved.  Let cool a few minutes before pouring into the jars to cover the grapes. Take care to distribute the spices that settle at the bottom proportionately between the jars.  Shake the jars to distribute the spices evenly.  Cool and refrigerate at least a couple of days before consuming. Slice up into sandwiches, add to salads (especially, potato salad), or serve as a snack with cheese. Thanks, Sangeeta, for correcting me on the taylorbirds and identifying the grape species as well.  Folks, these be Shiraz grapes!

filled jars 2

Published by Anita

A self professed urban ecologist!

13 thoughts on “Pickled Grapes

  1. Being out of India for a while, I got so used to the life without domestic helps. I like doing things by myself. It gives me a purpose to live and work hard. Sometimes it gets tiring and I wish I was in India. Very confused. 😦
    The grapes look super juicy and fresh. I love things with seeds. I tried seedless watermelon (that’s all they had), and it was bland and nothing like the watermelon we are used to. Red juicy pulp with black seeds embossed like jewels. I don’t mind seeds in grapes too. They are not that annoying. We compromise taste for convenience. Never heard about grape pickles. Novel idea indeed. Loved the pictures.

    Soma, I like doing myself too! Without the maid, I have so much more time and have been baking, cooking, and am also back to blogging!

    But there are certain things I prefer not to do – sweeping and mopping, dusting the house, ironing, washing the car, watering the plants…these chores require at least 3 hours daily; I don’t have so much time to spare. Delhi is dry and dusty, and you need to do these chores everyday. Can you imagine working women in India doing all this, putting in a full day at work, and the horrible commute that is a part of most people’s lives! I am lucky I don’t commute and can therefore, spare that time for cooking!

    I am going to try and see if I can swallow the seeds as I snack on the grapes... 🙂

  2. Grape pickles look very unusual and mighty tasty. Ah this post was a roller-coasters about the baby birds 🙂 I put up a bird feeder outside my kitchen window and it is fun to see the birdies visiting for a snack as I wash dishes.

    They are unusual, Nupur!
    With hardly any effort, we can host birds even in our city homes!

  3. i’ve never heard of grape pickle. It’s so colourful with the mustard all piled on top. Curious to try it sandwiched. Does the taste of the seeds alter?

    Yes, Sra, the bitterness in the seeds mellows and only a textural crunch remains, with all the anti-oxidant benefits!

  4. pehle grow then pluck then pickle then eat! some patience you have! and its great to have cool neighbours like you…hint hint!
    On another note, awesome pics as well! Love the frequency of updations…so fresh, so nice!

    Yes, there is a bottlw with your name on it too!
    It’s hardly any work – I need to prune it just once in Jan, and then watch it come to life!

  5. Unusual pickle there. About the birdies all survived, Yay! It is said that birds smell human touch on their babies and reject them. Your story dispels the myth.

    Yes, Anjali, that is just a myth! My research also said that touching will bring no harm and birds have a very weak sense of smell. Not that I touched them really; I used a piece of paper to pick them up – they looked too delicate to handle that time!

  6. Wow, these pickles look so luscious and I suspect they are just the right combo of tart and sweet that I love in my water based pickles. And boy, am I envious of your heirloom-grape-growing abilities or what! I suppose I could try growing my own vines here in bay area if I was a tad courageous esp. because I love myself a good dolma anytime of the year.

    And seed-ful grapes, what are those sweetie:-) Haven’t seen any in a long, long while around here. Will have to check our bountiful summer farmer’s markets for sure bursting as they are will all things heirloom.

    Also, glad you updated the blog, I check it every now and then and am always delighted when you post. You make food, friends and life experiences come alive for me with your style of writing and your joie de vivre so apparent in them.

    It may seem impressive, but there was hardly any skill involved – stick in the ground, prune once a year, and harvest in summer! The pickle is definitely interesting and worth a try.

    Trying to get the blogging rhythm back!

  7. Oh, what a nice post! Sorry I came late to the party, but what a nice surprise awaited me with beautiful photos- perfect reading for my current coffee-break!

    I actually have heard of pickled grapes before- but only once, and it is an old recipe dating back to the early 20th century- if not before- when it quite common in every household to pickle all sorts of things to keep handy. I will attempt to dig through my papers and find it for you and your readers.

    I heard that monsoon season has started since this post, and I imagine that “refreshing” is an understatement when compared to the seemingly-endless, oven-like atmosphere and the dust that settles on everything- enjoy!

    🙂 Better late… you guys used to be so prompt, the two wise ones.

    Please, please, let’s see the old recipe!

    Monsoons reach Delhi later (normal date of touchdown is June 29th, but not this year)than the coastal parts and it seems that are delayed this year. We keep looking skywards in longing.

  8. I am even later to the party. And I come knowing that there is no bottle with my name on it. Yes, these grapes are sour!

    What made you think of pickling your grapes?!

    What’s up with you, O LO? Late, no-show even!

    These grapes just sit around because of all the seeds, so, I scouted around for what to do with them. There weren’t too many recipes around that time, just one I think. It seemed such an odd thing to pickle that I made a very small batch that time. They did turned out well (after I forgot about them in the fridge for a year) so I thought of making them again this year!

    1. How is showing up and commenting “no-show?” Some people can’t be pleased no matter what!

      Check the previous post…though I will grant you that you were probably traveling at the time.

      But, it’s true – I look forward to what you might have to say! 🙂

  9. grape pickle looks amazing ! Next season I would love to try your recipe.
    I have been following your blog for long and remember having read that you had bought a dishwasher. it must be of great help with the maid not around. 🙂

    Hey there, Joy!

    Yup, the dishwasher is a life-saver! I use it all the time, maid or no-maid! 🙂

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