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Towards Ripeness

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Since this blog is named after a particular type of vine, I’ll dedicate this post to my favorite one.

I’m visiting my parents now. On their property, I planted a grapevine, a couple years ago. This year, it’s fruiting. It’s a glorious plant, sending out tendrils everywhere, a living symbol of fertility. Just the sight of it is enough to make me stop, admire it, and smile.

One reason I like growing plants is that you can find all kinds of life lessons embedded there. They have a metaphorical dimension you come across naturally, while tending to them. No one has to beat you over the head with the point, or test you on it. It arises organically, out of your cultivation.

One of them, when it comes to growing your own fruit, is the importance of ripeness. When we go to the supermarket everything seems uniformly ripe (if bland). We don’t give that moment of ripeness any thought.

On your own, though? It’s everything.

When your grapes start ripening, it’s tempting to go by this color-coded system – green=unripe, purple=ripe. So you pick them, and pop them in your mouth. For muscadine grapes, I’d had them in the wild. They have a storied history, the Texas natives that rejuvenated the European wine industry when a grape blight nearly wiped it out in the late 1800’s.

I used to run on running trails where they grow naturally. The dirt underneath them would be littered with crushed, fallen grapes; look up, and you’d see the woody vine, thick with leaves and curling around a trunk. I’d pick a few, and recognize that lush, almost alcoholic taste. (Interesting trivia: it is thought that our tolerance to alcohol evolved so that we could enjoy very ripe fruits, since it’s worth processing out the bad ones to digest the good ones).

I knew what to expect, I had a baseline. The ones that my parents had picked in their bowls on the kitchen table were much too bitter, and made your mouth pucker up. They tasted healthy, but no one would call them delicious – and wild grapes are, in point of truth, delicious. So I persuaded my parents to wait a little, even if it meant some of the songbirds might pick off a few, and eat them when they’re ripe.

For muscadine grapes, you can tell by color, but even more, by firmness; if you squeeze  them and they bounce right back, they’re not ready. This is how you tell, on the vine; when you’ve picked them, the best ones are also clearly the darkest, the most purple. From the first bite you know which ones have that luscious ripe taste, and which ones needed to be left out longer.

Because fruits which are unripe aren’t ready to be picked yet. They have to ripen on the vine, before they’re ready to go out into the world.

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