Katawba Grapes

We really like collaborating with other businesses and organisations, so I’m really happy to be making Katawba grape ice cream with grapes grown by Soil for Life. They offer courses in natural food gardening, predominantly to poor communities on the Cape Flats, and I’ve worked with them in the past, when I was involved in non profit work.

While almost no one has heard of Katawba grapes, a lot of people have eaten them, namely as children, nibbling them off pergolas in people’s gardens. The grapes themselves are delicious: purple-green, with pips and thick skins and the most marvellously jellied flesh. Most people spit out the skin and pips (onbeskof!) and enjoy just the flesh. It tastes grapey, but with musky and strong tropical overtones: it reminds me a bit of guava. It’s a heritage varietal, used for wine, jellies and eating, and originated in America in the nineteenth century.

Last year I wanted to play around with Katawbas, but Soil for Life had a puzzling, poor crop. The Katawba vines grow on a pergola which shades their offices, in their exquisitely wild and bountiful Constantia community garden. But this year they contacted me with the good news that there were plenty to spare, and indeed they managed to harvest eighty kilos at one go, with many grapes still left on the pergola.

I’ve never made or tasted grape ice cream before, but after some tinkering, we heated the grapes with a splash of water (to prevent scalding) on the stove, just until the skins loosened. Then we crushed them in a sieve to make grape juice, which we added to our normal custard base.

The resulting ice cream is startlingly purple, silky smooth from the fructose in the grapes, and tastes just like a Katawba! We’ve been scooping it for a week at our V&A Market Stall, and are sending it in pints to our ice cream club members, as one of their April limited edition flavours. I’m very happy to add this unusual ice cream to our autumn repertoire.

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