Once both of their kids were out of high school, my in-laws moved from their home in the suburbs to a little one-story house in the middle of a field that resides approximately 30 minutes from anything I would call “civilization.” They drive a minimum of 45 minutes there and back every day to get to their jobs and to visit us. Phillip and I initially thought this was their version of a midlife crisis, and now we pretty much think they’ve just permanently gone out of their minds, but we can’t argue with the serenity of what we have come to call “The Farm.”
My in-laws promptly embraced their inner country-folk and planted corn and butternut squash and a plethora of other fruits and vegetables and herbs. On the land they bought there was an existing Concord grape vine, but it hasn’t produced very many grapes due to the dreaded Black Rot. (Note: This is different from The Black Spot, but equally deadly.) My mother-in-law treated them this year, which I can only imagine involves giving each individual grape a gently fungicide bath and then reading them bedtime stories and tucking them in. But I don’t know much about farming grapes.
As soon as I caught wind that their grape vine was doing well this year, I started bugging them. When are there going to be grapes? Are the grapes ripe yet? How about now?! Finally, she showed up at my door with a 7-pound bag of grapes. Phillip and Nolan have been feasting on them, but I snagged some to make these bar cookies that I’ve been dreaming up for a month.
Inspired by The Farm’s bounty, I decided that black walnuts would have to make an appearance in these bars. My in-laws’ land is covered in black walnut trees, but they’re a real bitch to harvest, so I bought some pre-shelled black walnuts and toted home a few fresh ones from their tree for photos. Because I’m a dirty cheater. My fingers are still stained from cracking open the stinky green husk of one of them!
I wanted to make these bars moderately healthier, so I used whole wheat flour, oats, and I reduced the sugar. I like the nuttiness that the whole wheat flour offers, and I don’t think the bars are any worse for the wear with the reduced sugar. Perhaps a bit less tender and slightly less moist, but the grape jam filling makes up for it, and they’re still really soft and delicious.
I love the mix of the sweet grapes with the woodsy flavor of the rosemary. Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs to bake with. It’s so versatile and it reminds me of pine trees, so I especially enjoy it in the fall and winter. Black walnuts have a floral, earthy taste and are leagues beyond regular walnuts in terms of impact, so I recommend seeking them out.
I plucked another 8 or 9 pounds of grapes from the grape vine on Labor Day weekend, so I suppose I owe it to my in-laws to make another batch of these to send down to “The Farm.” If only as encouragement to keep the grapes happy and healthy for next year.
- ¾ cup (90 grams) whole wheat flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- ⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (70 grams) chopped, toasted black walnuts
- 1 pound stemmed concord grapes
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- ⅔ cup (80 grams) whole wheat flour
- ⅔ cup (80 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for greasing pan)
- ⅔ cup (140 grams) light brown sugar
- ⅔ cup (130 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2¼ cups (200 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add cold butter cubes and rub into the flour with your fingers until the mixture is gravely. Add sugar and walnuts and toss to combine. Place in the refrigerator to chill until ready to use.
- Pinch the skins off the grapes with your fingers, placing the skins onto a cutting board and the grape pulp into a medium saucepan. Roughly chop the grape skins and place into a medium bowl. Set a fine mesh sieve over the bowl of skins.
- Bring the grape pulp to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the grapes break down, about 10 minutes. Pour the pulp through the fine mesh sieve and into the bowl of grape skins. Use a rubber spatula to press the pulp through the sieve, leaving the seeds behind. Discard the seeds. Mix in the lemon juice and sugar and return the mixture to the saucepan.
- Bring the grape mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the rosemary and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, until the mixture is jam-like in consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool while you prepare the cookie base.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 13x9-inch baking pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed for 2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add both sugars and beat until fluffy, about another 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Turn the mixer speed to low, add the eggs and vanilla, and mix until combined.
- Scrape down the bowl, then with the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Mix in the oats on low speed. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir the batter by hand a couple times to make sure everything is evenly incorporated. Press the batter firmly into your prepared baking pan. (You can use foil or wax paper as a barrier to keep your hands from getting sticky, and also to make a more even base.)
- Spread the Rosemary Grape Jam evenly over the cookie base with an offset spatula, then distribute the black walnut crumb topping over the surface of the jam. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the bars are golden brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before cutting and serving.