Grape vines have been around for at least 60 million years, according to fossilized evidence. Wine hasn’t been around for that long, obviously, but we have clearly been enjoying it for some time. Grapes were first cultivated around the Black Sea, in Georgia, as ceramic jars dating from 6,000BC which had contained wine, were found at the site of a Neolithic village. There is evidence that they were cultivated in Asia in 5,000BC. Vineyards were mentioned in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” which was written sometime between 2,750 and 2,500 BC, although it was a written record of a much older tale.
There are many health benefits gained from eating grapes and drinking grape juice, but if you consider the longevity of people in some parts of Italy and France where the grape is grown and wine is consumed, there must be some benefits to the drink.
Grapes contain minerals, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and selenium as well as being rich in vitamins A, C and B6.They contain flavonoids and so are powerful antioxidants. It has been claimed that they can help asthma sufferers, they lower cholesterol levels, so help prevent heart disease, are useful as a laxative, cure indigestion, reduce uric acid and so help the kidneys function better, and if you drink fresh grape juice every morning, this is supposed to stop migraine.
Of course the Greeks had a god of wine and orgies, Dionysus, also associated with fertility, and the phallic fennel stalk was his thyrsus or wand, with a pine cone on top. His Roman equivalent was Bacchus. Both Romans and Greeks drank diluted wine, and only the lower classes drank it without water. Pliny, writing in 154 BC says that wine production in Italy was unsurpassed, and of course, it is still very good. Varro wrote about viticulture in 37 BC in his “Res Rusticae” (Of Country Matters), and we know that some Roman wine had to be drunk within a year of its production, while wines such as Falernian would mature. Romans favoured a concoction of wine mixed with honey just before drinking called Mulsum
In English we have the expression to “have sour grapes”, which comes from the Aesop Tale of the Fox and the Grapes. A fox couldn’t reach a juicy looking bunch of grapes, so told himself they were sour. Now the phrase means to behave meanly after being disappointed in some way. Grapes also feature in John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” published in 1939 and made into a film the following year.
Apart from wine, we also get oil from the grape seeds, and the leaves are edible too (see our dolmades recipe). However the best product from grapes, arguably, is wine. Below is another dolmades recipe which is a fusion of Greek and Asian cuisines.
STUFFED VINE LEAVES
12 vine leaves
200 gr cooked rice
30 gr pine nuts
30 gr raisins
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsps shredded coriander leaves (fresh)
½ tsp paprika (sweet)
1 tsp cumin seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
If you are using fresh vine leaves, then blanch them for 3-5 mins before using. If you’re using prepackaged ones, wash them to remove the preservatives.
Fry the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent. Remove from the heat and put in a bowl.
Lightly fry the pine nuts and raisins, and cumin seeds, just to coat them in the oil. Remove and add to the bowl. Put the cooked rice in the bowl. Add the paprika, salt, pepper and coriander leaves and mix well.
Place some of the mixture on each vine leaf and then roll them into a sausage shape, folding the ends inwards. Put them in a single layer in a frying pan with ½ inch water. Alternatively use our chicken stock if you are not vegetarian. Cover and simmer for about 20 mins.
Serve hot, or cold as appetizers with Tzatziki and/or feta cheese.
These have Taste and are a Treat.