I must have been about four because I remember this happening in the kitchen of our house on Madison Street. I loved milk, especially flavored milk--chocolate, strawberry, banana. Those flavors, begat by mixing a purchased syrup or a Nestle's Quik powder into milk, were, however, a rare luxury in the household of my youth.
One day--somehow left to my own devices in the kitchen, with no powder or syrup on hand--I decided to have a flavored milk nonetheless. Into a pudding-brown melamine teacup went a shot of ice cold whole milk and then a shot of Welch's concord grape juice. Oh, but it was the most lovely shade of pale lavender in that brown cup! Disregarding the subtle lumps swirling about as I gave her a stir, I took a few healthy gulps.
Yargh. How could two such unimpeachably delicious ingredients be turned, instantaneously, into such sour vileness?
When I came across a recipe for a "Purple Cow," a beverage consisting of grape juice and vanilla ice cream a few years later in my very first cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens' Step-By-Step Kids' Cookbook), that putrid taste still clung. I was reluctant.
Still, I found it hard to believe at that age that a book would ever lead me astray, and I remained curious about the flavor of grape and milk together, whether they could ever be paired without coalescing into evil. Intrepid though I was, I put my trust in that book, and the Purple Cow turned out to be a thing of beauty: that same appealing shade of pale lavender (sans curds) creamy, sweet and tangy with only the subtlest, somehow pleasant, hint of sourness.
Twenty-some years on, I'd all but forgotten the Purple Cow until a recent discussion with Tyler about the possibilities of the concord grape. We both hit on it at the same time--"Purple @!*% Cow, dude!"--and it seemed imperative then that I give the old cow a go-again.
Because Purple Cows are generally fairly loose, closer to the consistency of milk than milkshake, our persistent lack of ice cream machine and freezer didn't seem much of an obstacle. Instead of ice cream, I made a thick vanilla custard and blended it with concord grape juice and a few ice cubes (fortunately, we have an ice machine). To our deep pleasure, the result was spot-on: childhood by the gulp.
About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.
Author's Notes: Though the classic purple cow calls for vanilla ice cream, I've recently found it worthwhile to try other flavors like coconut and ginger. It's also important to note that the purple cow is a somewhat tenuous mixture, best enjoyed immediately after it is made, while it's at its chilliest and before its pleasant tang becomes something else entirely.
If you cannot find frozen grape juice concentrate, you may use the canned, room-temperature variety. Just pour the concentrate into a straight-sided plastic container (so that you can easily remove the frozen concentrate) and freeze for a few hours before preparing the cows.
- 1 pint quality ice cream, vanilla or other
- 1 5.5-6oz can of concord grape juice concentrate*
- 1 ½ cups milk
Blend all ingredients together until homogeneous. Divide among four chilled 10-ounce glass tumblers, and serve immediately.