Grape Focaccia

Grapes can change the world.

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When I was a little girl in Massachusetts, we didn’t eat grapes.  It had to do, I knew, with California, and the people there, and by association it had to do with my grandparents and cousins, and their neighbors and all the people they knew.  So even though every other kid at school had grapes in their lunch box and a bowl of grapes on the kitchen table at home, I didn’t mind being different and not eating grapes because I knew it was important to all of those people in California whom I cared about.

As I grew older, I came to understand that my family was participating in the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott to protest the use of toxic pesticides, which were dangerous to the health of farm workers and their families, most of whom were of Mexican, Filipino, or other Southeast Asian descent.  Union organizer César Chávez called the boycott the year I was born, and my mom responded, for which I will always be proud of her.

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That boycott was not ended by the UFW until 2000, and in those sixteen intervening years they succeeded in eliminating some of the most toxic pesticides from use in California’s grape fields.

In the year 2000, the farm I work for, Persephone Farm, was already certified organic.  The farmers market we sell at, Hollywood Farmers Market, was entering its fourth season.  It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that we wouldn’t be here, that this thriving culture of farmers markets every day of the week and farm-direct restaurant deliveries, of community-supported agriculture and Portland’s intense pride in what is locally-grown and locally-produced, wouldn’t exist if the UFW and other labor organizers of the 1960s and 1970s hadn’t shown consumers that we are active participants in our food system.

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I remember the thrill I felt when I first saw table grapes at the farmers market.  I shouldn’t have been surprised; Oregon’s wine industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade, so it’s only natural for produce farmers to cash in on the same advantages of our terrain and climate.  Even so, grapes will always feel exotic and special to me, and every time I buy them my thoughts wander back up the supply chain to the hands that picked them, and I wonder whether they were healthy and well-paid, and whether their children will have the opportunities to educate themselves that I’ve had.

Today I am also thinking of other hands, of those of my mother and father, and how they have shaped me.  When they made the simple decision to stop buying grapes in 1984, they could never have known how that action would impress and influence their infant daughter.

You never know who’s paying attention.  All of our decisions ripple outwards and affect those around us, and we have the opportunity to model through our actions the world we are striving for.  By thoughtfully acting on our values, we can change the behavior of our friends, parents, children, coworkers—and together, we can change the world.

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I’ve reduced the sugar here since I like my sweet breads more bread than sweet; but if you want to go sweeter, top with an extra tablespoon of sugar before baking, and dust with confectioner’s sugar when out of the oven.

This focaccia’s slight tang made me yearn for an arugula salad and perhaps a mild blue cheese.

Grape Focaccia
Adapted from Ripe by Nigel Slater

2 ½ t active dry yeast
1 ½ C warm water, about 90°
1 T sugar
1 t salt
3 ¼ C bread flour
10 oz. red table grapes (about 1 1/2 C)
1 T sugar
2 T olive oil

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, water, and 1 T sugar.  Mix and let sit for 5 minutes.  Stir in the salt, and add the flour.  Mix with a wooden spoon then turn out onto a well-floured surface.  Knead about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  It will still feel slightly wet and sticky.  Form the dough into a ball, place in a floured bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place to double in size, about 1 hour.

Prepare a shallow baking pan, about 12” in diameter.  Punch down the dough to let out some of the gas, and turn out onto a floured surface.  Gently knead half the grapes into the dough.  I accomplished this by taking a handful at a time and folding the dough over the grapes, then kneading a few times to disperse them.  Spread the dough out in the baking pan and pat into a large rectangle.  If the dough keeps springing back, let it rest a few minutes before shaping.  Dimple the surface with your fingertips and scatter the remaining grapes on top.  Cover and return to a warm place to let rise.

Preheat oven to 425°.  When dough is almost doubled in size, sprinkle with olive oil and 1 T sugar.  Bake 35-40 minutes, or until top is puffed and golden.  Let cool 10 minutes before slicing; serve warm.

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