A grape idea?
May 20, 2010 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Can I eat the grapes (?) that are growing on my building?

I moved into my new apartment in February. There is a huge growth of climbing plant on the face of the building, which I originally thought might be some kind of ivy. Come spring, and the leaves have opened...and fruit has started to grow, too! I'm almost certain they're grapes. There are a few little dried-out purple raisins left on the vines, but the birds ate most of the raisins. Is there any reason I shouldn't open the window and pick some grapes when they get big enough?

They are literally right outside my window.
Here are some pictures: (1) (2) (3)
posted by overeducated_alligator to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't suppose you have any pictures of them before they shriveled?

I'd say they're probably a muscadine or wild grape. The leaves look more grape-like.

When they're ripe-looking, split one open. If they have grape-type seeds, sniff it. If it's a muscadine it should have an unmistakeable grape odor. If it has both, I'd eat them. I eat muscadines growing wild in my front yard all the time.

On the other hand, if it has a crescent-moon shaped seed, it's a poisonous plant called a Carolina Moonseed. But the leaves don't look like it.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:08 PM on May 20, 2010

I don't suppose you have any pictures of them before they shriveled?

Unfortunately, I was too late for the ripe fruit when I moved in, and the new crop hasn't developed much yet. Right now they're the size of pinheads, but they're in distinctive grape-bunchy constellations, i.e., hanging in alternating clusters, as opposed to radiating from a central axis. I think I'm safe from the Carolina Moonseed because I'm in New England, but I still worry about other toxic plants.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:15 PM on May 20, 2010

They might be Boston Ivy fruits. Those you don't want to eat. How does the plant attach itself to the building? If it has little tendrils with suckery feet on the ends, it's not a grape.

If they do turn out to be grapes, I can't think of any reason not to eat them.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:53 PM on May 20, 2010

I vote for eat. We have a vine like that (leaves, vine style looks similar) that grows on our fence (in Massachusetts). We dined on our delicious, wild-growing backyard fruit without problems. The grapes didn't get very big - nowhere near the ginormous ones you see in the grocery store. But by October, they were tart, juicy, and disappeared very quickly!
posted by raztaj at 5:54 PM on May 20, 2010

If they are grapes wait to eat them until after the first frost this fall.

We have grapes that are mostly wild (they might have been purposely planted years ago but have been completely untended for at least a decade) growing between our property and our neighbors. My neighbor said that her mom told her that when grapes are left until after the first frost the starches turn to sugar and they are sweeter.

I don't know if that's true, but they do taste better. It may just be that they are ripe closer to fall and the ones we tried in the summer were just not ready enough, but so far it seems like that old wives tale is true.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:52 PM on May 20, 2010

That looks like a grape vine to me. You can eat them.
posted by fifilaru at 9:16 PM on May 20, 2010

When I was a kid, we harvested wild grapes along the back fence of our property. The grape vines looked a lot like these, and the fruit was really tart. Too tart to eat out of hand, really, but it made the most awesome grape jelly ever!
posted by LN at 6:49 AM on May 21, 2010

I'm almost certain that they're not grapes. I worked at a winery/vineyard for about eight years as a kid, and this seems off to me.

First, it's too early for fruit set in New England--at best, you'd have buds, and those look both too large and too loose for that. The "grapes" in the picture are pretty far apart--if it were an actual grapevine, they'd be tightly clustered like the second picture on this page.

You'll know for sure soon. If it is, in fact, a grapevine, the grape buds will flower like in the third picture in the page I linked above. This happens when the daytime temperatures are about 70. If they haven't flowered after a few days of 70s-ish temperatures, they're not grapes.

My money's on ivy. Some sorts of ivy have berries that grow in the sort of groupings shown in the picture--they start green and fade to a cream color as the season goes on, and then when they dry, they turn a deep purple-blue and can very much resemble raisins.
posted by MeghanC at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2010

Back when I lived in Pittsburgh there were 2 types of "grape" plants that grew like grapes and had their leaves. One was cultivated grapes, the other was called "wild grapes" because they sprung up like weeds and had tiny inedible fruits.

I suspect grapes are much like apples in that they are not 'true to seed' - the only way to get a good apple tree or grape vine is to clone (graft) a good parent - if you plant the seeds then you usually wind up with a plant that produces smaller and worse fruit than the parent (though infrequently this is how new commercial varieties appear).

Your wild grapes are probably derived from a bird that ate some hybridized seeds and then shat them out where you now find them growing.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:31 AM on May 23, 2010

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