Make your own Raisins

Did you ever wonder where that wallpaper boarder with a repeating pattern of grapes came from? My best guess is that it came from the practice of drying your own grapes to make raisins.

My grandmother’s village is located in the middle of the Douro wine region in Portugal. If you follow the Douro River inland from Porto, you will find a town called Régua on the north side of the river.  A bit further up-river and half way up the green mountain range is Donelo. The village of one of my ancestral homes. During the grape harvest in mid to late autumn, depending on the climate, we would often have a surplus of grapes. What do you do when you have too many grapes?  Most of the grapes would be sold to make Port Wine, some would be kept to make table wine, some would be consumed fresh but a common practice there was to make our own raisins.

A View up River from the dock in Regua.                                                         Photo by: Catia da Silva

Port Wine grapes are the sweetest grapes and are sought after to make fine Port Wine because of their high sugar content. They also make tasty raisins. Some years they have more than they can sell and more than they can use for personal consumption.  So they dry the surplus so that they last them through the winter.  They also dry figs and other leaves for tea.

This is the best way to hang them so that the air circulates around the grapes. But it works just as well hanging them along the wall.

I remember the sight of grape bunches hanging all along the walls of the living room and kitchen.  They were placed much like the wallpaper trim along the wall near where the wall and ceiling meet.  They hang them high as the air is warmest and driest near the ceiling.  The Bunches are strung with string and hung from nails.  The trick is to have them hanging so that they can dry evenly.  It is best to minimize the amount of grapes that are actually in contact with the wall.  It also helps to rotate them once or twice a week for an even drying of the bunch. And that’s it.  The rest is a waiting game.  Depending on how hot it is, it may take a few weeks for the grapes to dry thoroughly.  The key is to let them dry all the way through.  If you squeeze them and they are even a bit squishy, they are not ready.  They should feel soft but not squishy. A taste test will also let you know when they are ready.  If properly dried out, they will not grow any mold on them and they will taste sweet.  It is important that they are hanging in a dry place. I like the kitchen or near a fireplace when drying indoors as the heat elements will heat and dry out the space.

You can also hang the grapes outside in the sun during dry weather.  Again, it must be dry.  This process takes approximately 2-3 days.  I would bring them inside over night so that the outdoor creatures don’t steal them on you.  I personally prefer to dry them indoors because I have more control of the environment and it’s easier to keep them pest free. I have made my own raisins at home with store bought raisins.  If they are store bought, make sure to wash them first and thoroughly dry them before hanging them.

This is a good representation of how the raisins should look like when they are ready to eat. 

Making your own raisins is worth the wait. They are tastier, they do not have any added preservatives and they store well for quite some time.  So far I have been successful in storing my raisins in a mason jar for several months.  Again, I can’t stress enough that the raisins must be well dried out before storing them in a jar or mold may start growing. My grandma’s family would either leave them on the wall and eat them as the winter went on or when the stems get to dry to hold the weight of the bunch, they would store them in kitchen towels.



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