Despite their year-round availability at your local grocery, there are no Thompson Seedless or Red Globe grapes growing in Georgia. Large fruited, fragrant and spicy sweet muscadines — with thick skins in shades of purple and bronze — are our native Southern grapes.
The bronze varieties are often called scuppernongs, although that name properly refers only to the first named variety of muscadine, found growing wild in northeastern North Carolina in 1810.
Charles Cowart of Still Pond Vineyard and Winery in Arlington, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, tends 180 acres of muscadines in five varieties – Magnolia, Carlos, Higgins, Fry and Noble Fry.
Still Pond produces muscadine juice and wine, and soon will be adding a distillery where they’ll be making brandy, vodkas and specialty whiskeys from their grapes. According to legend, there was a peach brandy distillery operating at Still Pond during the Civil War. “Now we’re the first licensed alcohol producers here,” said Cowart.
The vineyard’s grapes are mechanically harvested, crushed and pressed and then the juice is chilled. Some juice is sold to other wineries throughout the Southeast. The rest goes into Still Pond’s fermentation tanks. “In March or April next year, that wine will be ready. We’ll start bottling, and the wine is ready to go home with someone,” said Cowart.
The winery has 19 different labels, with Notchaway White their best seller. “It really captures the essence of muscadines at the peak of ripeness. Our No. 2 is the Notchaway Red, which people like for the health benefits from the red pigments,” he said.
The sugar level of the fruit at harvest determines the sweetness of the juice and the wine made from it. “Muscadine wine has gotten a bad rap from being a homemade, super sweet, syrupy high alcohol product. Our wines don’t have any of these characteristics,” he said.
Although most of his harvest is destined to be turned into juice or wine, Cowart can’t resist eating the grapes right off the vines. “Fry is my favorite. It’s the sweetest,” he said.
Cultivated muscadines are sweet and juicy but the seeds can be bitter. Best to spit them out or just swallow them whole.
Muscadines will keep for up to a week in your refrigerator. Don’t wash until you’re ready to eat or cook with them. They’re high in vitamin C, and each cup has about 100 calories.
At local farmers markets
4-8 p.m. Thursday, September 19. Chef Seth Freedman of Forage and Flame offers demos throughout the market. East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.farmeav.com
9 a.m. Saturday, September 21. Chef Bruce Logue of Boacca Luppo, working with muscadines. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.morningsidemarket.com
10 a.m. Saturday, September 21. Chef Steven Satterfield of Miller Union. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta. www.peachtreeroadfarmersmarket.com
11 a.m. Saturday, September 21. Chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud, Family Dog and Tomine's Pizza. Green Market at Piedmont Park, Atlanta. www.piedmontpark.org
Vegetables and fruit: acorn squash, apples, arugula, Asian greens, bitter melon, carrots, celery, chard, collards, corn, cucumbers, edamame, eggplant, figs, garlic, ginger, green beans, herbs, kale, lettuce, melons, muscadines, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, onions, pea shoots, pears, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, sorrel, spinach, spring onions, summer squash, sweet potatoes, sweet potato greens, tomatoes, turmeric, yard long beans, winter squash.
From local reports
Lure’s Muscadine Membrillo
Hands on: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Chef David Bradley buys cases of muscadines when they come into season. “We take a lot of time to seed, roast and puree the grapes, and we freeze the puree so we have it for months to follow,” he said.
To make Lure’s membrillo, he uses high methyl ester (HM) pectin. Fruit pectin is available in grocery stores in a one-use box, but also in a multi-use canister. Do not use low sugar pectin for this recipe.
“We serve the membrillo with our cheese course and toasts, just as you might with traditional Spanish quince paste. The membrillo slices nicely, has a similar graininess to traditional membrillo and is both visually striking on the plate and tasty. I think it would work nicely as a component on a sandwich as well with some aged cheese and Serrano ham,” Bradley added.
2 1/2 pounds muscadines, rinsed
1 (1.75-ounce) box fruit pectin (or 6 tablespoons)
2 cups granulated sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut muscadines in half and pick out seeds with toothpick or point of a paring knife. Arrange grape halves cut side up on prepared baking sheets. Roast grapes until partially dry, about 30 minutes. They should shrivel but not be dried like raisins. There should be some moisture left. Be careful not to scorch or caramelize the grapes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Line a 6-by-6-inch baking dish with plastic wrap.
In the bowl of a food processor, puree roasted grapes, in batches if necessary. Run for a long time to break skins down as much as possible. Transfer puree to jar of a blender and process on high speed 1 minute or until very smooth. Strain puree through a sieve. You should have 2 cups of puree. Discard solids in sieve.
In a medium saucepan, combine muscadine puree with pectin. Stirring constantly, bring mixture to a full boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard 1 minute. Add sugar all at once, and return mixture to a boil that cannot be stirred down. Stirring constantly, boil hard 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Quickly pour mixture into prepared baking dish and smooth surface with an offset spatula. If done too slowly, the membrillo will not set flat. Allow to cool and then refrigerate. Cut thin slices as needed. Membrillo will keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
Per serving: 201 calories (none from fat), trace protein, 53 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, no fat, no cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium.
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