Friday, April 16, 2010


Picking green grapes for making vertjus; Tacuinum Sanitatis

I have a secret ingredient. It’s called Verjus (from Middle French vertjus "green juice"). Prized for a thousand years, you can buy it today fairly easily but I have a recipe that is the BEST EVER and I’d like to share it with you. It comes from Madeleine Kamman’s In Madeleine's Kitchen (you need to buy her books!!). It is a little expensive to make and takes a few months to be brilliant but verily I say unto you… your patience will be rewarded! After two months it is delicious, in a year it is insanely good… if you can leave some for a few years it will take your breath away.

Unripe Grapes

Verjus has its roots in the wonderful idea that nothing should go to waste. Unripe grapes (left after the harvest) or sour crab apples (common in England) would be used to make this vinegar-like liquid.

crab apples

The 14th century cookbook, Le Menagier de Paris’ recipe made Verjus with sour grapes and sorrel. Later recipes ask for sour grapes with salt to act as a preservative. In the Middle Ages oil was precious and this would often be the only thing that would go on salads and greens for flavoring. Called husroum or ab-ghooreh in the Middle East, it is still used in Arab/Persian and Syrian cooking. It is somewhere between a vinegar and a wine (my version still has a bit of alcohol in it!).

I had a small portion that I had stored for 7 years quite by accident (a gift that never got given!). I used it last summer with hazelnut oil on a salad and the result was transporting. Gossamer light, complex yet subtle, it is Aristocratic vinegar, if you will.

Carolyn at 18th Century Cuisine shared a slightly different version of Kamman’s recipe on her wonderful blog. Kamman recommends a version with yeast in it in her latest cookbook. My particular recipe uses Armagnac and honey with the strong savor of the flowers the bees dined upon (thyme, heather, acacia)* to anchor the sherry vinegar and tart grapes. The use of Armagnac was a happy accident the first time I made it many years ago… an accident that I now repeat every time I make it.

Perigord Verjus from Amazon

If you don’t have the time or the inclination, the store bought variety can be amended with the addition of some of these elements. Good honey* and sherry vinegar with a small shot of a good brandy will give a purchased verjus some of that quality I love in Kamman’s recipe. I really recommend taking the trouble. Use it with a nut oil on butter lettuce or baby greens and you will see salad in a new light. It is also wonderful on mangoes and tomatoes or even avocado. It gives a delicately nuanced brightness to the fruit. I can’t lie… I have taken small glasses of it!

I usually halve this recipe (Armagnac is pricey!).


30 large green grapes (unwashed organic)

1 quart grape juice (crushed and strained) from sour grapes (or the hardest green grapes you can find---I have always used market grapes myself)

2/3 c Honey (thyme, acacia, heather, evergreen etc.)*

2 Quarts 90 proof alcohol (I used 750 ml bottles) of Armagnac (or brandy, vodka)

2 c sherry vinegar

Prick the grapes with a needle, and place in the bottom of a ½ gallon jar. Filter the grape juice through a coffee filter (this was tough… in the end I used a fine sieve) and pour over the grapes. Add the honey and stir until dissolved then add the alcohol and vinegar. Seal the jar with several layers of cheesecloth (I used a snap lid jar and put the lid down but not snapped over the cheesecloth). Do not disturb for at least 2 months… it is ready to use when the berries have fallen to the bottom and the liquid has clarified, although there will be a fine layer of sediment at the bottom. I poured off the liquid into a bottle and left the grapes in the sediment. They are delicious. (9 months old, this batch is unbelievably good!!)

*** I imagine you could try this with crab apples if you have a tree!

I’ve used this bottle for nearly 20 years. I keep adding new Verjus as they do with the solera system for Sherry in Spain (it’s called in perpetuum in Sicily and used to make marsala) leaving a little from the old batch to enrich the new batch!

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Diane said...

I will certainly try this out it sounds really good. Thanks for visiting my site. Diane

Sue said...

A lovely post! Verjus is used a lot in French cooking and it's hard to find over here. I get Nick to bring me back a bottle from Bordeaux!

Joanne said...

Interesting! I've never heard of this but it certainly sounds delicious. i bet it would be great in place of white wine in pasta or chicken dishes!

La Table De Nana said...

It sounds easy enough..I had never heard easy..Great idea..Maybe my husband will like to experiment.:)

Tasty Trix said...

My to-do list:
1. vote for you
2. click on google ads!

This is a very cool recipe. I've heard of verjus, but I don't believe I ever knew what it consists of. I must try this, and I will let you know how it turns out ... in oh, 7 years? Worth it!

tasteofbeirut said...

We get verjus every year from the man who manages our orchard in the mountain (we have a few grapes) ; I am sure he does not put Armagnac in his! But verjus is also an old tradition in Lebanese cuisine; you know all these cuisines knew how to use everything and let nothing go to waste!
Great post, and delightful photos, as always!

Unknown said...

What a wonderful recipe. Thanks for sharing it. Now I'm going to click on your adds daaaaahling :D
Have a fab weekend.
*kisses* HH

Barbara said...

Really Deana, sometimes when I read your postings I feel such a dolt! Verjus is new to me! Have I been living under a rock?
Anyway, I love your attention to detail, your photos and your research. And verjus sounds wonderful, as does Kamman's cookbook. (which I just ordered used from Amazon-see how much I trust you?)
I really must try this, you make it sound divine.
Off to click and vote, of course!

Anonymous said...

Cool recipe for verjus! We recently had an amuse bouche at a 5 star with Verjus Consommé that was so good! I need to make it at home.

pierre said...

i knew verjus !!! nice recipe ! have a good day

Mary Bergfeld said...

I'll be darned! It goes to prove you are never too old to learn something new. This is completely knew to me and because I love to experiment I'm thrilled. Thanks for this one :-). Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Deana Sidney said...

Food fun and life>Glad you stopped by.. it is a try!
Sue> I have had a vineyard version, and I really like Kamman's best.
I know this is personal ... but it is something special!
Joanne> you can use it for a million things. anything that would use lemon or vinegar or a bright wine would love this!
La Table> it is devilish simple to make...only 1/2 hour or so. It is the waiting that is hard
Trix> you will love it... it is so much better than store-bought!
Taste of Beirut> If you like the vineyard version, you will love this.. it is darker and more complex!
Heavenly> it will surprise you... so good!
Barbara> so many things I haven't tried ( like Trix's toasted pumpkin oil.. oh my. As for the cookbook... you will love me when you get it... she is a genius!
5 star>verjus in a consomme is a brilliant idea... I want to know what else was in it now!!!
pierre> this is a little different... you should try!
Mary> it is perfect for you... and will be ready with the great lettuces of summer!

Linda said...

Deana I love to visit you...
I always come away learning interesting things!

Ingrid de Villiers said...

I have never heard of Verjus! Thanks for the lovely post, i will definitely try and make it!

desde my ventana said...

Hi Deana,
Thank you for visiting and leave your comment,I like
Interesting post like your blog I never heard about verjus.
Have a lovely weekend,

Sarah said...

I have a crabapple tree. I have a cold room! I will make this. Sounds lovely.

Rita said...

Love this post; very interesting;Vergus is new to me. And morels; don't find them fresh around here but the dry ones are super.
Great photos.

Anonymous said...

This sounds great and I definitely want to make it. I'm not sure how to get my hands on unripe grapes though: do you think if I as at the farmers market I'll be able to have them set some aside for me?

Stella said...

Hey! I have photo envy. I like darker photos like yours rather than super bright ones like I mostly see on F.G. If you feel so inclined, please do share as to how you get well lit, yet romantic lighting in your photos (I want to know). This vinegar sounds wonderful by the way-good, informative post as always!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another unique (to me) and wonderful recipe! I would love to try it if I can locate the ingredients. I've never tried making any home-made vinegars and this one sounds exquisite.

Deana Sidney said...

Linda> the feeling is always mutual... i love sharing things I've learned over the years... this is a particular favorite!
Ingrid> It is so easy... honest.
Celia> It is a romantic vinegar if there can be such a thing!
All our fingers> Sarah.. you must let me know if you make this... I would love to try a crabapple version... do you have a juicer? I think you could process them and strain but the crabapples I've tried are not very juicy!
Sage>Thanks Rita I love sharing the unusual!
Innbrooklyn> I changed the copy... the hardest grape you can find at the market works just fine.
Stella> write to me.. but the biggest secret is filters and gold bounce!!! I love gentle light too...sometimes you just have to march to your own drummer...even if it isn't what is "in". Make your own "in"!!!! Not every picture has to be a biology class closeup!
Savoring> most everything is available in the market..or the liquor store and great honey is good on anything!!!!

Andrea said...

Fascinating post. I've been meaning to get some armagnac for prunes, and this gives me one more reason. I love all the history you've included!

2 Stews said...

I have never heard of Verjus either...I'd love to try this. I have a crab apple tree, but the grapes seem more authentic...I guess I could make both and compare! From your description, you can't have enough of this :-)

Thanks Deana.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Golly gosh you're clever Deana! I've never thought to make my own, let alone one that has been kept for 7 years but I should have known a clever lady like you would have! :D Thankyou for sharing your verjus secrets! :D

Deana Sidney said...

Andrea> prunes and armagnac are a great icecream... and if you have some left over try the verjus. I once was a little short of armagnac and used a splash of cognac... it was still great.
2 stews> I am dying to try the crab apple version... my tree was always ratty and I never touched the fruit... I think getting juice out of them is going to be a chore though!!
Lorraine>It wouldn't have occurred to me to age it either... a happy accident.

Faith said...

Lovely post! My grandparents have a crab apple tree and it always seemed like such a waste to me that no one ever made anything with crab apples. I'm glad to finally find a recipe to utilize them -- I'm dying to make this now! :)

Unknown said...

Thank you for the brilliant recipe. I live in CA wine country and have good access to the green grapes. I've been looking for good ingredients to make my homemade mustards and Verjus is a key for dijon mustard. Looks like a whole new adventure in things to make at home ; )

Medieval Muse said...

What an incredibly lovely post!

Ken Albala said...

How very interesting! I remember Madeleine Kamman on TV explaining verjus and it sure looked gook. But I think in the Middle Ages it would have been just unripe wine grapes, pickled while thinning the vines in summer. And pressed. The acidity keeps it from going bad if kept in a cool place, but still best to put in small bottles and use as needed. I'll make some this summer and send to you. In a bottle WITH A SCREW TOP THIS TIME!!!

Deana Sidney said...

Faith> I really want to hear from any of you who make the crabapple.
Jason> I made that mustard and it is brilliant.
MedievalMuse> Thanks!
Ken> I know it is not authentic... I mentioned the originals... it is an updated version but it is soooo good! Let's exchange!!! I can't wait to try homemade... the bought one I tried was not... great.

Cathy said...

What a lovely post. It's always fun to learn something new. I've never heard of verjus before and enjoyed reading about it's history.

Fresh Local and Best said...

This is quite an interesting post! I didn't know that marsala and solera were made with the gradual addition of fresh juice. I'm imagining how wonderful it must be with those fruits you mentioned.

Deanna said...

This definitely sounds delicious. I can't believe I've never heard of it. I will have to give it a try.

Deana Sidney said...

Cathy> I learned something too!!
Fresh> I never knew about marsala using the system either but it really works for sherry and for verjus!
Deanna> You just haven't fallen down the rabbit hole of historical food... so many great things there!

Anonymous said...

If you go to an Iranian grocery store in late Spring, you can find bunches and bunches of unripe grapes for purchase--I wash them and freeze them for use throughout the year. They are fantastic when thrown into a tomato-based dish with eggplant and chicken--absolute heaven!

Princess Valiant Coffee said...

Just found your post this evening after a winemaker friend and I were talking about making verjus. (I'm a coffee roaster and also make chocolate from scratch, from the cacao bean.) Fascinating - can't wait for harvest....or just before. Thanks!