Weekend Gourmet

Celebrate our state's mother vine

September 8, 2012 

Muscadine Sorbet.

COURTESY OF FRED THOMPSON

  • Scuppernong or Muscadine Pie 4 cups ripe scuppernongs or muscadines 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 2 unbaked 9-inch piecrusts, homemade preferred 1 large egg, beaten Additional sugar REMOVE skins and set aside. Throw the pulp into a large saucepan placed over high heat. Bring the pulp to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer about 5 minutes, mashing the pulp with a fork. Strain the juice to remove seeds. RETURN the juice to the pan and stir in the skins. Simmer over medium-low heat for another 20 minutes, or until skins are soft. Remove and discard skins. HEAT oven to 450 degrees. STIR sugar, flour, salt and lemon juice into cooked juice. Stir in the butter. LAY bottom piecrust in pie plate. Pour sugar-juice mixture into crust. Cut second crust into lattice strips and lay on top of pie. Crimp the crust and brush top crust with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with the additional sugar. Use raw sugar for a more interesting result. BAKE at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake 40 more minutes, until pie is just set and crust is golden. Shield the crust with foil if browning too quickly. Cool for several hours before serving. Yield: 1 pie
  • Muscadine Sorbet 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar 1 1/4 cups water 1 750 ml. bottle of muscadine wine or juice Juice of one lemon COMBINE sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes or until the sugar has completely dissolved. Cool and reserve. You now have simple syrup. Measure out 1 1/2 cups. COMBINE syrup and the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture into your ice cream freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. This sorbet, when made with wine, doesn’t freeze as hard. Place in an airtight container that can go in your freezer. Let the sorbet “cure” at least overnight. Keep frozen until just ready to serve. Yield: About a quart

If you grew up in the South, you have no doubt had the pleasure, or gotten in trouble, because of a grape arbor in someone’s backyard. Not just any grape, but North Carolina’s 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 George’s farm just off Highway 70, a few miles outside Garner. It was my mother’s 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 that’s hypnotic, drawing one to the source. We’d 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.

We’d 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. That’s 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 Carolina’s many scuppernong or muscadine wines. Try one that has been made in the style of ice wine.

Harper Lee sums up the grape’s place in our Southern awareness, when in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout Finch proclaims “helping ourselves to someone’s scuppernongs was part of our ethical culture….” Just don’t get caught.

Fred Thompson is a cookbook author and publisher of Edible Piedmont. Reach him at fdtfx1@earthlink.net.

For a printable version of the recipes, click the links:

Scuppernong or Muscadine Pie

Muscadine Sorbet

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