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America’s First Grape is Still a Favorite

October 28, 2021

Christine Patrick

When it comes to grapes, we have Thompson seedless, Concord, and wine varieties like Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet. When it comes to a Southerner’s taste buds, however, there is a fondness for America’s first grape – Vitis rotundifolia. You know it better as the muscadine, that bronze or purple-black fruit that is native to the Southeast. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh described them as being “on the sand and the green soil, on the hills as on the plains, as well as on every little shrub. . .also climbing towards the tops of tall cedars.” The original bronze muscadine variety found growing in the wild is called Scuppernong. Though improved bronze varieties are now available for commercial planting, most Southerners still refer to any bronze muscadines as Scuppernongs. Black or bronze, they are all muscadines. Debate may brew over whether to eat the skins, which can be tougher than the skins of table grapes like the Thompson variety. Some people like to eat the whole thing, and some just like to squeeze out the juicy pulp and throw the skins away. Give the skins a try before you decide which side of the issue you come down on. Some people think they are tasty. Besides, they add fiber to your diet. What’s more, researchers have discovered that muscadines – skin, pulp, and seeds – contain significant amounts of resveratrol. That’s the compound in red and white wines that the French tout as an agent for lowering cholesterol levels and the risk of coronary heart disease. Well, anything that French wines can do, the muscadine can do better. Studies at Mississippi State University indicate that two fluid ounces of unfiltered muscadine juice, one serving of muscadine jam, one medium muscadine muffin, or one-tenth of a serving of muscadine sauce contains about the same amount of resveratrol as four fluid ounces of red wine.

Muscadines are popular in backyard gardens, adding a bit of an ornamental flair to fruit production. Muscadines are hardly ever affected by disease or insects and adapt to a wide range of soil types. They do best, however in the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain range. If you decide to plant native grapes, be sure you know the difference between the types that produce flowers with both male and female parts and those which produce flowers with only female parts. The former are called perfect-flowered muscadines and they include varieties such as Carlos, Cowart, Doreen, Nesbitt, Tara, and Southern Home. Varieties that need a perfect-flowered cultivar for pollination include Fry, Darlene, Sugargate, Black Beauty, Supreme, Summit, and Scarlet. Check with your local Clemson Extension office for information on how and when to plant muscadines. Muscadine grapes will keep in a covered shallow container in the refrigerator for about a week. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. Inspect the grapes often and remove any showing signs of decay. Muscadines can also be frozen for use later in pies, cakes or to make juice. To freeze whole grapes, make sure you use those that are fully ripe and firm. Sort, stem, wash and dry them before freezing. You can also separate the pulp from the hulls, saving both. Heat the pulp to soften it and then remove the seeds by pressing the pulp through a fine sieve or food mill. Mix the juice and skins and boil until the skins are tender. Mix the softened hulls with the deseeded pulp, add one part sugar to six parts grapes, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cool and pack for the freezer, leaving enough headspace in the container to allow for expansion, about an inch.

Try some of the accompanying recipes:

Muscadine pie

4 cups muscadines
1 cup brown sugar
2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 stick margarine (melted)
1/2 cup white sugar

Mash pulp out of each muscadine, one at a time. Cook pulp over low heat until seeds turn loose. Run through a strainer to separate seeds. Add back to hulls. Cook 10-15 minutes until hulls are almost tender. Place in a pie plate. Cover with crackers and brown sugar, then margarine. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees.

Muscadine dump cake

1 cup prepared grapes

½ stick butter

1 cup self-rising flour

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

To prepare grapes, remove the pulp. Cook pulp until seeds loosen, then press through a sieve to remove seeds. Add pulp to skins and cook until tender. Add sugar to taste, some grated lemon peel, and a sprinkle of apple pie spice.

Melt butter in a glass pie plate. Mix flour, sugar, and milk in another bowl. Pour flour mixture over butter. Carefully pour prepared grapes over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Do not open the oven until baking time is up. The cake should be brown on top. Serves 8.

Mulled muscadine cider

1 quart muscadine grape juice

dash of ground allspice

2 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks

1 lemon, sliced

1 orange, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve warm. Yields 8 half-cup servings.

For more information on fresh fruits and vegetables, check out the Clemson University Home and Garden Information Center.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.



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