|'Roger's Red' Grape has great flavor!|
Mother Nature produces an array of interesting and unusual products. Chemists, engineers, chefs and others continue to be amazed and inspired by plants. Break-through inventions are created every year based on plant chemicals!
Some plant products are nothing short of magical. Among these are the chemicals that give plants their colors. Plant colors are a great way to introduce children to the fascinating world of science; kids find the colors exciting and utterly captivating.
Fortunately, several color ‘experiments’ can be done using plants and equipment common around the home. Cheap, simple and safe are always good, especially in working with children. And when there’s a bit of magic involved? Well, that’s the fun of science!
Among the most interesting plant colors are the reds and blues. These are produced by a set of plant chemicals known as the anthocyanins (pronounced AN-tho-sigh-ANN-ins or an-tho-SIGH-uh-nins). These are the chemicals that make red cabbage red, grapes purple and the flowers of old-fashioned snowball bushes (Hydrangeas) turn blue or pink.
Anthocyanins change color when exposed to mildly acidic conditions (vinegar; lemon juice) or alkaline conditions (baking soda). In fact, they can be used as pH indicators: they are pink in acidic solutions (pH < 7), purple in neutral solutions (pH ~ 7), greenish-yellow in alkaline solutions (pH > 7), and colorless in very alkaline solutions.  Next time you buy a red cabbage, smash a bit of leaf and put a little vinegar or baking soda dissolved in water on the juice. See if your kids can guess whether the test solution is an acid or a base (alkali).
Wild and Concord purple grapes are a good source of anthocyanins. We shared our tips for picking and preserving wild (and other purple) grapes last month: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html.
If you made grape juice - and still have a little left – you may want to make some ‘Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Cupcakes’. They are delish – and nearly as easy as making a ‘box cake’. You may want to make these cupcakes in other flavors as well; this is based on a really nice, old-time recipe.
|Mother Nature's Magic Grape Cupcakes|
But these cupcakes are truly magical. Have the kids help make them. Watch closely when you add the grape juice to the batter. What happens to the color? What color are the cupcakes after they are baked? Are you surprised? How do you explain what happened?
Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Cupcakes
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine*, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. dry milk powder
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. homemade wild grape extract **
½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. homemade wild grape juice (unsweetened is best) **
Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare cupcake tins (either grease & flour or use paper liners). This recipe makes 12 regular cupcakes; about 24-28 mini-cupcakes. Cream butter until light and fluffy (an electric mixer makes this job easy). Add sugar and continue beating 5 more minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix well after each addition. Sift together the flour, soda, baking powder and dry milk powder. Add the dry ingredients and the juice, alternately, stirring to mix and ending with the dry ingredients. Watch for the magic as you add the juice. Add the extracts and stir just to mix. The batter will be a bit thicker than batter from a standard ‘box cake’.
Spoon or pour batter into prepared cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full. When you’re done, level the batter and remove bubbles by dropping the tins on a countertop several times (just hold tins about 4-5 inches above the counter, then drop the tins flat onto the countertop). Bake in a 350° F oven until done (toothpick inserted in center comes out clean); about 12-15 minutes for mini-cupcakes; 15-20 minutes for standard cupcakes. Let cool for 10 minutes; remove from tins and let cool completely. Check out the color! Frost with Magic Grape Frosting (below). Enjoy!
* can substitute vegetable shortening for half (e.g. ¼ cup shortening + ¼ cup butter/margarine)
** for instructions on how to make homemade extracts and juice see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2016/08/california-gourmet-preserving-summer.html The juice is unsweetened. It can be made from any wild or Concord type (purple) grape. You might be able to substitute a natural, unsweetened, commercial purple grape juice (will be tasty, but I can’t guarantee the magic).
Mother Nature’s Magic Grape Frosting
We are often pressed for time and just modify vanilla frosting out of the can. Pillsbury’s vanilla or any vanilla/vanilla buttercream frosting will work just fine. Add 2-3 Tbsp. wild grape extract (see above) to the frosting. Stir well. Then add enough powdered sugar to make the frosting stiff enough to spread. Frost the cupcakes with the pastel purple frosting. Enjoy!
If you make a favorite vanilla frosting from scratch, that will work fine too. Just add the grape extract and extra powdered sugar to get the proper consistency.
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