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Mouthful Of Muscadines—A Southern Summer Treat

Natural Times, July/August/September 2013

By Crystal Wakoa

Most kids that grew up in the South remember picking wild grapes right off the vine and popping them into their mouths—a summer ritual as ordinary as diving into the nearest spring. They tasted different from store-bought grapes—just as sweet but muskier, wilder tasting. The name—scuppernong—was almost as fun to say as popping them, although some adults called them muscadines. Either way, they tasted as good as summer itself.

The muscadine, or Vitis rotundifolia, is native to the southeastern United States where it thrives in our summer heat and humidity. Native Americans preserved the muscadine as dried fruit. Later, Spanish settlers reportedly made large quantities of muscadine wine. The muscadine was the first native grape species cultivated in North America. A century of breeding has produced dozens of cultivars, including bronze, dark purple and red varieties. Muscadine wine, jelly and pie are all Southern specialties.

The scuppernong is a bronze variety of muscadine, named after the town of Scuppernong in Washington County, North Carolina, where the grape was officially recognized in the mid-1700s. So scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs.

Historically, the muscadine has been a bit of a black sheep in the family of grapes prized by fine wineries. But oenophiles, particularly we in the southeast, have caught on to the sweet muscadine dessert wines. Dry muscadine wines are gaining popularity, too, as their health advantages become public knowledge.

Muscadines stand out from their northern cousins in a couple of important ways. They have an extra set of chromosomes containing genes that allow them to produce a unique set of phytonutrients that are virtually absent in other grapes. Imagine that! The abundantly wild muscadine nutritionally outperforms its hoity-toity cousins! You’ve no doubt heard about the benefits of resveratrol found in red wine. Well, muscadines have resveratrol in spades, along with a dozen other polyphenols, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents known to fight cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and prevent heart disease.

The muscadine also sports a thicker skin than its cousins, enhancing its resistance to disease, fungi and insects, and increasing its storage capacity of phytochemicals. The tasty pulp actually contains the least amount of phytochemicals, so if you want the full nutritional benefit, eat the seeds and skin, too. With a healthy amount of potassium, fiber and vitamin C, the muscadine is one of nature’s wonder foods. 

So go ahead, indulge in 

a southern summer treat. Muscadines are available at New Leaf Market, local farmers’ markets, U-Pick farms and maybe your own back yard. New Leaf Market sells the SeaBreeze brand of muscadine wine from Panama City. Monticello Vineyards & Winery sells their locally grown and bottled organic muscadine wines on-site or on-line at www.monticellowinery.com/organics.html.

Muscadine Grape Hull Pie

Ingredients:

Pastry for a double-crust pie

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 cups muscadine grapes (about 2 pounds), rinsed

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or cider vinegar 

3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into bits

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place bottom crust into a pie pan, with the edge of the piecrust hanging over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch.

Mix the sugar, flour and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Holding a grape over a medium bowl, squeeze it with its stem end down, so that the pulp pops out and falls into the bowl. (If the pulp doesn’t pop right out, cut the stem end off before squeezing.)

Set the hulls aside in a bowl, and place the grape pulp and juices into a medium saucepan. Add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook until the pulp has softened and begun to break down, so that the seeds can be easily separated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until cool enough to handle. Work through the bowl of pulp, extracting and discarding the large round seeds.

Return the seedless pulp to the saucepan, add the grape hulls, and continue cooking for 5 minutes more or until the hulls soften.

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar mixture.

Pour the grape filling into the pie crust. (Do not overfill it. Reserve any excess and make a small pie in a custard cup, or cook just the fruit as a simple pudding.)

Scatter the bits of butter over the pie filling, and cover with the top crust. Crimp the edges or press them with the tines of a fork to seal well. 

Make slits in the top of the pie so that juices can bubble up and steam can escape. 

Place a baking sheet under the pie to catch any drips.

Bake the pie at 400° F for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 350° F, and continue baking until the filling is thickened and bubbling hot, and the crust is nicely browned, 40 to 50 minutes. 

Set the pie on a rack and let it cool completely before eating.

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