September the month for harvesting juicy, ripe grapes and pomegranates

Co-workers who disappear on holiday this month and come back looking fit and healthy may well have been picking their own grapes to make home-brewed wine. September is traditionally the month of the grape harvest (trigos) in Greece. The grapes are crushed in hand-operated or mechanized presses, and then the must is sometimes sold to a local cooperative, depending on the amount produced and – more importantly – the amount the family requires for its own table. The residue, in the form of seeds, skins and stalks, is sometimes used to make spirits – the remainder can be composted for use as mulch. The process does not have to be large-scale. Kathimerini English Edition’s George Kolyvas and his family make a delicious rose wine on the island of Lefkada from their own grapes, which they grow in a small vineyard of 0.2 hectares dating back 20 to 30 years, which was first planted by his grandfather. «He planted 10 different sorts of grapes, so it is a bit of a cocktail. To protect the vines from pests, they are dusted with sulphur and copper sulphate three times a year, first when the vines are starting to bud and then twice more after that.» The pruning is done in March-April, and the soil tilled to keep it aerated, but otherwise the vines are left to themselves. «The family does not live on the island all the year round – we just go there for the picking and pressing, which is usually in mid- to late September,» said Kolyvas. The family plot, on an east-facing mountain slope about 1 kilometer (just over half a mile) from the sea, produces 1,000 liters of wine. The grapes are crushed in two presses. The first is electrically powered, consisting of two rotating cylinders that extract some of the juice; the residue is then passed through a manual press in order to get every single drop of juice out. The must is poured into oak barrels, some of them very old, which are left open for a few days to allow the fermentation process to proceed. Then they are sealed with cork and plaster and left to mature until May, when the wine is bottled. «We could leave it longer, but seven or eight months is usually enough,» said Kolyvas. Another beautiful yet little-used fruit is also ready for harvesting at this time of year. The seeds of the pinkish-red pomegranate, sometimes found mixed in salads or fruit salads, can also be used to make a delicious liqueur (see below) or drunk as a fresh juice, which is sweeter if mixed with freshly squeezed orange juice in roughly half-half proportions. A pomegranate is traditionally crushed at New Year as a symbol of good fortune. Silver pomegranates are a popular New Year gift. The deciduous Punica granatum (rodhia in Greek) grows up to 4 meters high and produces small, bright-red flowers in early summer. Its small, light-green leaves and dainty branches make it an attractive addition to any garden, particularly when in fruit. Prune away shoots lower down to encourage height and a fuller «tree» shape at the top. The tree is drought-resistant and likes well-drained soil. Pomegranate liqueur Extract the seeds by cutting the fruit in half, then holding one of the halves face down over a deep bowl in one hand, with your fingers spread out, strike the back of the fruit sharply all over with a large spoon. The seeds will drop down between your open fingers into the bowl. Fill an airtight glass jar up to halfway with the seeds and add sugar in about the same proportion, mix well and close the jar, leaving it in a sunny spot for a few weeks to two months, depending on the amount. (The mixture will turn a darker red color.) Strain the juice into a bottle and add brandy gradually, testing it as you go so that you don’t add too much and lose the delicate pomegranate flavour. The bottle is best left unopened for a few weeks to allow all the flavors to mature. Another pomegranate product used in making cocktails is grenadine, a strong dark-red syrup. Make your own by removing the seeds from about four pomegranates, then pulping them in a food processor. Add a quarter of a cup of honey, and then simmer the mixture over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring all the time, then strain.