Mason Jar Vintage

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today was a day of great importance. Today was unforgettable. Today was a day of history remembered and made. Yes--today I drank 50 year-old grape juice.

It began when I drove up to Pasadena today to visit my aunt Celeste. She lives in a cozy yet beautiful craftsman style bungalow which she and my dad inherited from their parents. We were having a really nice time chatting away over Connal's grinders on the front porch which sported a vast array of succulents, while watching hummingbirds dive-bomb each other for territorial dominance of the bird feeder. The conversation turned to food and growing food; and then to drink and making drink, as I mentioned to her that we had recently juiced five gallons worth of apples from a friend's apple trees to make apple cider; which reminded her of the concord grape "wine" her mom--my grandma--used to make when my aunt was a little girl.

She explained to me that Grandma C. (as we grandkids always call her) would fill the jar half full of grapes, along with sugar and water, and preserved it using the jar method. To drink it, they filled their glasses with one part wine, one part water and a generous amount of ice. It sounded delicious. And oh by the way, my aunt added, she found several mason jars full of the stuff from fifty years ago that had been sitting forgotten on a shelf in the garage and would I like to take some home?

Now one may be considering at this point the wisdom--or sanity--in imbibing in the aforementioned drink. But the sentimental adventurer inside me couldn't resist the offer. I remembered times at my grandparents' house, eating those dark blue grapes from the same vine Grandma C. had made her concord wine out of so many years before. Plus, I reasoned I had already had a similar wine tasting adventure in trying a bottle of rosé from the 80s that had been sitting in my parents' basement (which turned out to be corked vinegar). I figured the worst thing that could happen is that it would smell bad and I wouldn't drink it.

At the end of our visit, my aunt gave me two generous, dusty, rusted-top mason jars blanketed lovingly in bubble wrap, and I headed home with my new treasure. "My husband is gonna flip when he sees this!" I thought happily, recalling the fun rosé misadventure we shared a few years ago.

"Do I wanna know what's inside those jars?" Aaron asked as he helped bring them in the house. I gleefully told the story of the concord wine, which was met with raised eyebrows and less-than enthusiasm. My microbiologist/scared-for-my-pregnant-health husband tried to reason me into not drinking it, but my stubborn heart was set on its mission. I had even planned out the pictures I would take of the wine as I drove home. He finally gave up trying to persuade me out of it and I was left to my own devices.

After taking glamor shots of my dusty relics, I fetched a glass and proceeded to open the smaller jar which stubbornly stayed shut. I hadn't considered that dilemma. If jar #2 didn't open I didn't throw out the possibility of cracking those suckers with a hammer. Actually, when I saw it playing out in my mind, I did throw out that possibility. I'm not crazy, after all. Well, not that crazy, at least.

I went for the second jar. the outer mason jar ring opened as smoothly as if it were jarred last week. I eagerly tried prying the top seal off with my fingernails, but no luck. I went and got a steak knife and wedged the point between it and the glass jar. *Ssssssip* it went as the air lock broke, as if to say, "ssssip me!" Yes, this was a positive sign. I removed the seal and timidly hovered my nose over the brown liquid. I sniffed.

It didn't smell like puke. Another positive sign. It smelled like sherry. I smiled. Three positive signs in a row. I picked up the cumbersome jar with both hands and poured some into a glass. The liquid was amber. With hundreds of little particles swirling around. Screw the particles. I've drunk particles before. I lifted the glass and took a sip.

It was sweet! Good grief it was sweet. It had survived fifty years of forgotten storage, three or four major earthquakes, fifty sweltering summers without air conditioning, and the Carter administration. It was untouched and aloof to the harsh world outside.

But I didn't take another sip.

I admit, the particles were kinda wigging me out, and those grapes sitting in the bottom of the jar looked too gnarly to tempt prevailing goodness. But I did take another sniff. Ahh, sherry.

Raising my glass of 1960 vintage concord grape "wine," here's to aunt Celeste, for giving me a little gastronomic and historical adventure; and to Grandma C., now 92 years old, who knew heck-yeah how to jar.


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