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Ripe off the vine, or in a recipe, the South's muscadine can shine

 

Five-year-old Cami Simpson samples a sweet, earthy muscadine as she harvests the native Southern fruit from a vine at Palmer Home in Columbus. Cami’s house parents are Tim and Shelley Potter of Brotherhood Cottage.

Five-year-old Cami Simpson samples a sweet, earthy muscadine as she harvests the native Southern fruit from a vine at Palmer Home in Columbus. Cami’s house parents are Tim and Shelley Potter of Brotherhood Cottage. Photo by: Tanner Imes

 

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Mucadine muffins are made with a fruit filling.

Mucadine muffins are made with a fruit filling.
Photo by: Courtesy

 

Muscadine grape hull pie is a recipe inspired by frugality.

Muscadine grape hull pie is a recipe inspired by frugality.
Photo by: Courtesy

 

The Mississippi State University MAFES Sales Store on campus sells muscadine juice by the bottle.

The Mississippi State University MAFES Sales Store on campus sells muscadine juice by the bottle.
Photo by: Courtesy

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

As hot Southern summers wane into late August and September, young watchers who have patiently monitored vines at Palmer Home in Columbus finally hear the pronouncement: "Muscadines are ready!" And like other fans of the big grape, they fill up their shirttails with the sweet and tart fruit, to enjoy fresh off the vine. 

 

"This was neat," began Mary Tuggle, Palmer Home's director of horticulture. "We have some new kids who have never seen any farm production, and when they learned you eat a muscadine by biting into it and sucking all the pulp out of it and spitting out the seeds, they said, 'You get to spit? Cool!'"  

 

Of course, plenty of others who appreciate the muscadine use them for jellies, jams, juices and other recipes, even salads. 

 

You may consider this native American grape an old-fashioned fruit, and there's credible reason. It's been around quite a while. In the mid-1500s, English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh landed on the coast of North Carolina and later described them as being "on the sand and on the green soil, on the hills as on the plains, as well as on every little shrub ... climbing to the tops of tall cedars ... in all the world the like abundance is not to be found." 

 

 

 

Which is best? 

 

Unlike smaller grapes, muscadines grow to about 1 1/2 inches in size and have a tough, outer skin. They don't grow in bunches, but in clusters of four or more fruits. Varieties range from dark purple to bronze in color and go by fanciful names like Black Beauty, Dixieland, Granny Val and Sweet Jenny.  

 

Mississippi State University Extension Service horticulturist Jeff Wilson said, "Selected varieties do very well here. Jumbo, Fry, Carlos and Scuppernong seem to be the most popular ones." 

 

"In our orchard we grow four varieties -- Carlos, the big purple Black Beauty, Fry and Choctaw, which is bronze," said Tuggle, who uses the fruits to make jellies served for special occasions at Palmer Home 

 

(A tip from Tuggle: "The pot you use makes a difference, whether it's cast iron, steel or aluminum. I prefer the good quality heavy steel. If it's aluminum or cast iron, it can change the flavor and color of your jelly.") 

 

A holiday favorite of Tuggle's is to serve cream cheese with muscadine jelly. "Get the jelly to room temperature and drizzle it on and to the side of the cheese and serve with wheat crackers; it has a nice, pretty burgundy look to it." 

 

 

 

Cook 'em up 

 

Using muscadines in recipes does require some time in separating the pulp from seeds and skins. To seed, just cut the fruit in half and flick the seeds out with the tip of the knife. If using muscadines in a recipe that calls for the fruits to be peeled, here's a trick from diynetwork.com: cut an X on one end and squeeze the other end until the pulp pops out.  

 

Beyond jams and jellies, one of the most well-known recipes is for muscadine hull pie. Find that recipe, as well as one for seared scallops with muscadine vinaigrette at cdispatch.com, under the Lifestyles link. 

 

 

 

Grow 'em, too 

 

The Extension Service offers free publications on growing muscadines and plenty of other fruits. Pick these up in Columbus at 512 Third Ave. N., in Starkville at 106 Felix Long Drive; and in West Point at 218 W. Broad St., Suite D. 

 

Planting season is from November through February, in fertile, well-drained sandy loam soils. Space plants about 20 feet apart, allowing for plenty of spreading on a horizontal trellis (a single wire at about 5-1/2 feet above the ground works fine.) Following Extension Service guidelines, you'll be harvesting muscadines next year from late August to October. 

 

 

 

Pick your own 

 

No garden? Try a pick-your-own farm, like Reese Orchard at 1716 Sessums Circle in Starkville. For a small fee per pound, you can harvest your own muscadines (and Asian Pears) now on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon and then from 3-6:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.reeseorchard.com, or call 662-324-1509.  

 

Or, get your muscadine rush from the MAFES (Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station) Sales Store on the MSU campus. They sell more than just cheeses, as you can see at msucheese.com. A nonalcoholic 100-percent pure muscadine juice that "tastes as if you're eating a grape plucked fresh from the vine" sells for $6 a bottle. You can also order it shipped to friends who need a sip of the South.  

 

"And we sell muscadine ripple ice cream," said store manager Debbie Huffman. "It was voted the most favorite flavor by students in a 2008 survey." The ice cream is $5 a gallon at the shop located at 925 Stone Blvd., near the Junction. 

 

Collected right off the vine, or adding zing to ice cream, the sweetly tart Southern muscadine keeps delivering on taste. 

 

 

 

GRAPE HULL PIE 

 

Serves eight 

 

Total time: Two hours, 20 minutes 

 

Active time: 30 minutes 

 

 

 

1 1/2 quarts green muscadine grapes 

 

1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste 

 

1/4 cup corn starch 

 

Premade double pie crust 

 

     

     

  • Halve the muscadines along the equators and pop out the seeds with your fingers, placing skins in one bowl and pulp in another. In a saucepan, combine skins and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook skins until tender, 15 to 25 minutes. Drain water and set skins aside.  

     

  • Meanwhile, microwave pulp for three minutes on high, or until seeds separate easily. Pass through a sieve, pressing hard to extract juice and soft pulp. Mix pulp, skins and sugar. Taste and add sugar, if desired. Add corn starch and stir to combine. It should make between 3 and 4 cups.  

     

  • Fit the unbaked pastry shell into a pie plate and fill with muscadine mixture. Cover with remaining crust. Press edges together and decoratively flute.  

     

  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until crust is golden and you can hear filling bubbling. Remove from oven and cool slightly before serving
 

 

(Source: www.eveningedge.com/recipes/grape-hull-pie/) 

 

 

 

SEARED SCALLOPS WITH MUSCADINE VINAIGRETTE 

 

Serves 4 

 

Total time: 25 minutes 

 

 

 

2 cups red muscadine grapes 

 

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for sautéing 

 

1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar 

 

1 heaping teaspoon minced shallot 

 

Salt and pepper to taste 

 

12 large sea scallops, preferably dry pack 

 

     

     

  • Halve the grapes along the equators and pop out the seeds with a small knife. Pop the pulp out of the skins into a blender.  

     

  • Place the skins in a small saucepan, cover with water and boil for 10 minutes. Set pan aside.  

     

  • Place the oil, vinegar, shallot and salt and pepper into the blender and puree until smooth. Reserve.  

     

  • Pat the scallops dry, season well and sear in a hot skillet filmed with olive oil over a medium-high flame . Sear about four minutes on each side until well-browned and just beginning to shrink and give up juices. Place the scallops on a warm plate to hold.  

     

  • Deglaze the skillet with about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the boiling skins. (Discard the skins.)  

     

  • Place the deglazing liquid in the blender and give it another spin to combine.  

     

  • Serve scallops with the vinaigrette over salad, rice or pasta.
 

 

(Source: www.projects.eveningedge.com) 

 

 

 

MUSCADINE MUFFINS 

 

 

 

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil 

 

1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

 

1/2 cup granulated sugar 

 

Two eggs, lightly beaten 

 

1 1/4 cups self-rising flour 

 

1 cup muscadine fruit filling (see separate recipe) 

 

 

 

For the fruit filling: 

 

1 dry quart muscadines 

 

1 cup water 

 

1 1/2 cup granulated sugar 

 

 

 

To make fruit filling:

     

     

  • Wash the muscadines under cool running water. Remove stems and any blemished fruit. Using your hands, squeeze the muscadines to separate the hulls from the pulp and seeds. Place the hulls and 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat cook until barely tender, about 10 minutes. 

     

  • Place the pulp and seeds in a second saucepan and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the se

     

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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