‘The grape is the oldest fruit in existence and the most valuable’

BBC pork chops
BBC pork chops

“Wholesome, nourishing and delightful, whether fresh or dried, the grape is perhaps the oldest fruit in existence and no doubt the most valuable.”

The words of May Byron from her 1923 Jam Book. A couple of weeks ago I spotted some blush pink grapes for sale in London and was struck both by their magnificence and by how much we take them for granted. They’re the perfect snack – no preparation just a quick wash and they’re good to go. In addition to this they’re nutritionally top of the class. Studies have suggested that regular consumption can prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. They are a good source of vitamin C, A and K and the health benefiting electrolyte, Potassium.

They run the gamut of flavours from sweet to lip puckeringly sour making them ideal for inclusion in a myriad of dishes. Using grapes in cooking is a much better idea than consigning them to the fruit bowl or serving on the side of a cheeseboard.

With their natural astringency grapes aren’t widely used in desserts but a sweetened sparkling wine jelly set with soft fruit is a deliciously light treat. Allow one leaf of gelatine for each 100ml of liquid.

Bloom the gelatine in cold water for 10 minutes then add to the heated wine.

Sweeten to taste then cool. Pour over strawberries, blueberries or raspberries in glasses and chill to set.

The zing of grapes makes them the perfect foil for rich meats or game.

When I’m barbecuing I throw some grapes on the grill to blister them and intensify the sugar. Add them to chopped cheddar, celery, apples, walnuts, sourcream and mayonnaise to pep up the usual Waldorf salad.

My first recipe this week is for pork chops with a grape mostarda. Mostarda is a Northern Italian condiment where fruits are cooked in a sweet and sour vinegar and sugar solution to which mustard has been added. When you’re sourcing pork chops go to a good butcher and get them with a good fat to meat ratio.

The sweet, hot and sour grapes are perfect to cut through the rich grilled meat and the scorched thyme adds a smoky hue to the dish. This is a great one for the barbecue and if we believe the forecasters, they’ll be dusted off any time soon.

Roast chicken is one of those simple pleasures in life that can’t be beaten. While a roast chicken with gravy is a Sunday institution, through the week it doesn’t do any harm to spice it up a bit.

Rubbing the chicken with spiced oil first provides an exotic change to the norm. Roasting it with grapes and onions to boot adds a savoury, zingy aspect. Lately I’ve been using wholewheat couscous – it’s healthier than the regular variety but cooks the same easy way. Hot stock, over the couscous, leave it and its done.

Adding the spice infused juices to the couscous with some almonds,fresh grapes and loads of parsley and you’ve got a fabulous platform for your spice roasted chicken.

By all means keep popping these juicy orbs as a snack but consider them for every day cooking too.