If you grew up in the South, you have no doubt had the pleasure, or gotten in trouble, because of a grape arbor in someones backyard. Not just any grape, but North Carolinas own native treasure, scuppernongs or muscadine grapes. These bronze-green and inky-red to black grapes are as much a part of the culture of the South as grits and biscuits.
In decades past, Labor Day was spent at my Uncle Georges farm just off Highway 70, a few miles outside Garner. It was my mothers version of a family reunion. Barbecue and every conceivable side dish and dessert were laid out on groaning wooden tables.
None of this interested me or my cousins like the scuppernong grape vines down the path on the back side of the house. Scuppernongs have a perfume thats hypnotic, drawing one to the source. Wed pick the grapes, suck out the pulp from the thick skins and spit the seeds at each other, although more times than not the spit would wind up on our chins.
The younger ones would swallow the seeds at first and the older kids, me included, would convince them a grapevine would grow out their belly buttons. This sent them screaming in horror to their moms, who would tell them we were just kidding. Of course our own mothers chastised us.
Wed climb the arbor until Uncle George would yell at us, usually with a cuss word or two thrown in.
I suppose kids have been climbing on the vines for 400 years. Thats the age of the Mother Vine on Roanoke Island.
While some scoff at the grapes, few avoid them after their first taste. Here are a couple of recipes ripe for the season of scuppernongs. Try them both, but do it soon. The appearance of these grapes is way too short.
Both recipes make great desserts for most anything, but I especially like the pie with barbecue. Keep the sorbet for the holidays and surprise your guests. It makes an exceptional palate cleanser. Reinforce the flavor with one of North Carolinas many scuppernong or muscadine wines. Try one that has been made in the style of ice wine.
Harper Lee sums up the grapes place in our Southern awareness, when in To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch proclaims helping ourselves to someones scuppernongs was part of our ethical culture . Just dont get caught.
Fred Thompson is a cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a printable version of the recipes, click the links: