Juicy Secret

img_20161018_200827945January of 1958 found Dr. John Welles alone and bored. He could usually count on the weather to keep him busy with the typical winter illnesses of colds, sore throats, and flu, but the residents of Addison were driven inside to hibernate much like the doctor himself. After a vigorous round of house cleaning and catching up on his pleasure reading, Dr. Welles was saved from his tedium by a dinner invitation from Reuben and Hannah Wise.

The Wises were humble people who offered the very best they had to Dr. Welles including homemade grape juice to drink with dinner. When the tangy beverage was incorporated into the dinner blessing, Dr. Welles suspected there was more to his neighbors than met the eye. But it is the Wises’ request made during dinner that truly shook the foundations of their friendship with the doctor.

There really isn’t a recipe for making grape juice; it’s more of a quantity issue. For the sake of this post, I used two one-quart containers of concord grapes which yielded exactly 3 ½ cups of juice. After tasting it, I can see why people make it in large batches to drink on the spot and/or can it for the winter.

Whether picking or purchasing grapes, place them in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Discard any grapes that are insect damaged, smashed, moldy, shriveled, or imperfect in any way. Remove the good grapes from the stem and place them in a pot large enough for your desired quantity. Some people prefer to add just enough water to cover the grapes for the cooking process, but I find this weakens the flavor somewhat.

img_20161018_204844113Mash the grapes with a potato masher and bring to a simmer over a low heat. Don’t heat them quickly or boil them. Stir frequently to keep the grapes from sticking to the bottom. Once they reach a decent simmer, time them for ten minutes. Mash the grapes again half way through the cooking process.

Carefully pour or ladle the smashed grapes through a fine wire sieve, with or without cheesecloth, which has been set over another pot or bowl of adequate size. Gently stir through the mash to extract all the juice. Depending on your quantity, you may need to finish this step in the refrigerator overnight. Allow any sediment to settle to the bottom. Straining the juice once more through cheesecloth will ensure that most of the sediment is removed.

Depending on your taste, you can add sugar to the grape juice or drink as is. I added two tablespoons of raw sugar to the above-mentioned quantity, but really, it’s up to you. I recommend adding any sweetener while the juice it still warm. At this point, you can chill it to serve or can it for later.



Keep Calm and Eat Latkes

Keep Calm and Eat LatkesLatkes are featured twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The first time was during a Hanukkah celebration Sam Feldman hosted for his two friends, John Welles and Claude Willoughby. Although Hanukkah was technically over, Sam’s idea to celebrate again was meant to cheer up Claude who had not returned to Kentucky with his family for Christmas. Sam’s mother, Gladys, made the latkes as an accompaniment to her brisket.

The second instance in which latkes are served was during the dinner John had with his neighbors, Reuben and Hannah Wise, during the years he lived in West Virginia. Hannah served the shredded potatoes with salmon patties.

In both stories, the following recipe is the one I had in mind. Because the Feldmans and Wises are Jews, they would have used any oil other than lard. I recommend peanut oil because it ensures a wonderful crisp exterior and a tender, well-cooked middle. Some cooks prefer canola, but all appear to agree that this is one time to forego olive oil. Forget fancy potatoes for latkes as the starch in Russets also guarantees crunchy edges and soft, fluffy middles.


12 Russet potatoes, shredded

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

2 eggs, beaten

4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Peanut oil

I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.

Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the clumps of potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and fry until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter. Serve with sour cream and applesauce.


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