“To make Verjuice of Grapes, unripe, or of Crap-Apples, from J. S. Esq.
“Take Grapes full grown, just before they begin to ripen, and bruise them, without the trouble of picking them from the Bunches ; then put them in a Bag, made of Horse-Hair, and press them till the Juice is discharged ‘ put this Liquor into a Stone Jar, leaving it uncover’d for some Days, then close it and keep it for use. This Verjuice is much richer than that of the Crab-Apple … N.B. it will do well, if the Liquor is put into common Casks, but is nicer to the Palate if it is kept in glazed Jars of about eight or nine Gallons, and the Berries might then be pick’d from the Stalks. Keep this in a good Vault, and it will remain good for three or four Years as Verjuice ; but a little more time will make it lose its Sourness, and it will become like Wine.
“The verjuice of Crab-Apples should be made of the wild Crab, which produces Thorns on its Branches, and brings a small round Apple, such as are common to be planted for Fences. I am the more particular in this, because some Apples, which are call’d Wildings, are supposed to have a sharp Juice, but such will soften by keeping a Year or two. Take the Crabs, I speak of, in October, and grind them in a Mill, such as they use for making Cyder ; then press the liquor, and put it into Vessels like the former. Besides the agreeable Taste this has, as an Agreta at the Table, it is good for the Callico Printers.“
Richard Bradley, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1732)
Verjuice, made as the recipe above suggests by pressing the juice of sour crab apples or unripe grapes and allowing it to ferment, was once a staple condiment and ingredient that most cooks and housekeepers would have had access to and regularly used in their cookery. Acidic and tart, but not quite as acidic or tart as vinegar, it would have added a sharp flavour to savoury and sweet dishes – Elizabeth Moxon’s Plumb Porridge for example – and had medical applications too; it was recommended by John Gerard as a key ingredient in an ointment that could be used to treat burns and scaldings.
Verjuice, or a very similar preparation, is also a traditional and still common element of Syrian and Persian cuisine (according to Wikipedia). A modern version can be bought in the UK from the Verjuice Company, whose website includes a section of recipes that make good use of the product (verjuice truffles, anyone?) or, of course, you could have a go at making your own.
For reasons of health and safety, I’d suggest that you find a more modern method to follow, rather than using J. S. via Richard Bradley’s eighteenth century instruction to leave the juice in an uncovered stone jar for a few days and basically hope for the best, botulism-wise. Also: I couldn’t find an online translation for an “Agreta” – I assumed it would be some sort of easily-identifiable regional wine that was popular in the C18th, but online searches have turned up a blank – so if anyone knows what Mr Bradley is referring to, please do drop me a note in the comments.
Likewise, as always, if you decide to turn your excess crab apples into verjuice, or already do so on a regular basis and have any top tips on the best method to follow – please do let me know via the comments, or email me details or links to an online source and I’ll happily post a follow-up.