Raisin - Encyclopedia

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RAISIN (Fr. raisin, grape; Lat. racemus), the name given to the dried fruits of certain varieties of the grape vine, Vitis vinifera, which grow principally in the warm climate of the Mediterranean coasts and are comparatively rich in sugar. The use of dried grapes or raisins as food is of great antiquity (Num. vi. 3; 1 Sam. xxv. 18, xxx. 12). In medieval times raisins imported from Spain were a prized luxury in England, and to the present day Great Britain continues to be the best customer of the raisin-producing regions. "Raisins of the sun" are obtained by letting the fruit continue on the vines after it has come to maturity, where there is sufficient sunshine and heat in the autumn, till the clusters dry on the stocks. Another plan is partially to sever the stalk before the grapes are quite ripe, thus stopping the flow of the sap, and in that condition to leave them on the vines till they are sufficiently dry. The more usual process, however, is to cut off the fully ripe clusters and expose them, spread out, for several days to the rays of the sun, taking care that they are not injured by rain. In unfavourable weather they may be dried in a heated chamber, but are then inferior in quality. In some parts of Spain and France it is common to dip the gathered clusters in boiling water, or in a strong potash lye, a practice which softens the skin, favours drying and gives the raisins a clear glossy appearance. Again, in Asia Minor the fruit is dipped into hot water on the surface of which swims a layer of olive oil, which communicates a bright lustre and softness to the skin. Some superior varieties are treated with very great care, retained on their stalks, and sent into the market as clusters for table use; but the greater part are separated from the stalks in the process of drying and the stalks winnowed out of the fruit. Raisins come from numerous Mediterranean localities, and present at least three distinct varieties - (1) ordinary or large raisins, (2) sultana seedless raisins, and (3) currants or Corinthian raisins (see Currant). The greater proportion of the common large raisins of English commerce comes from the provinces of Malaga, Valencia and Alicante in Spain; these are known by the common name of Malaga raisins. Those of the finest quality, called Malaga clusters, are prepared from a variety of muscatel grape, and preserved on the stalks for table use. This variety, as well as Malaga layers, so called from the manner of packing, are exclusively used as dessert fruit. Raisins of a somewhat inferior quality, known as "lexias," from the same provinces, are used for cooking and baking purposes. Smyrna raisins also come to some extent into the English market. The best quality, known as Eleme, is a large fruit, having a reddish-yellow skin with a sweet pleasant flavour. Large-seeded dark-coloured raisins are produced in some of the islands of the Greek archipelago and in Crete, but they are little seen in the British markets. In Italy the finest raisins are produced in Calabria, inferior qualities in central Italy and in Sicily. From the Lipari Islands a certain quantity of cluster raisins of good quality is sent to England. In the south of France raisins of high excellence - Provence raisins in clusters - are obtained at Roquevaire, Lunel and Frontignan. Sultana seedless raisins are the produce of a small variety of yellow grape, cultivated exclusively in the neighbourhood of Smyrna. The vines are grown on a soil of decomposed hippurite limestone, on sloping ground rising to a height of 400 ft. above the sea, and all attempts to cultivate sultanas in other raisin-growing localities have failed, the grapes quickly reverting to a seed-bearing character. The dried fruit has a fine golden-yellow colour, with a thin, delicate, translucent skin and a sweet aromatic flavour. A very fine seedless oblong raisin of the sultana type with a brownish skin is cultivated in the neighbourhood of Damascus.

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