The lifespan of muscadines is fun to watch. We saw tons of tiny little sprouts in the spring, which we knew meant the promise of a good yield. All summer long the grapes grew bigger and bigger until finally in late August they were irresistible to the squirrels/chipmunks/birds and we had to cover them up with netting to save our harvest. We lived with the “hairnet” look over our grapes for almost a month and then determined they were ripe and ready for picking in mid-September. Our netting was a great tactic as we got approximately 40 pounds of grapes, which we are using to make muscadine wine.
But back to the aroma. As the grapes were ripening, and starting to turn a dark gorgeous purple-black color, their smell was fantastic, even in the great outdoors. Walking by them resulted in a gentle whiff of very “grapey” smell, and then harvesting them with our heads and hands up into the vines yielded a heavenly scent. But that does not begin to compare to the heavy, intoxicating smell (pun intended!) permeating our entire house once we crushed the grapes as the first step of making muscadine wine.
It is unbelievable how a bucket of smooshed grapes, hiding down in the very back recesses of our basement, can make the entire house, even the second floor, smell heavenly.
For those of you unable to enjoy the smells and harvest of muscadine grapes of your own, they are plentiful in the grocery stores. Many roadside stands and farmers markets also have muscadines for sale and if you have never tried them you really should. They are not tame like the seedless varieties in the grocery store; these grapes are two-bite bad boys all the way, with tough tart skins and lots of seeds. But the syrupy sweet insides contrasted with the tart skin is a taste and mouth feel completely unique to muscadine grapes
A little history on muscadine grapes: They are native to the southeastern United States, thriving on the limited number of cool nights, high humidity and our very high temperatures. They are found growing from New York to Florida and as far west as Texas. There are literally hundreds of varieties of muscadines and they may be dark purple, bronze or almost black.
Some varieties stay green when ripe and these are usually known as scuppernongs, a specific type of muscadine. Muscadines are most commonly used for wine, jelly, juice and jams. Muscadine wines have been made as far back as the 16th century, with St. Augustine, Fla., being an early producer of muscadine wine.
Not everyone wants to make wine or jelly with the grapes so I wanted to offer an alternative recipe for you. You can pick up some muscadine grapes and snack on a few plus enjoy them with a meal!
Green Salad with Muscadine Grapes and Goat Cheese
Toast about 1 cup of pecan or walnut halves in a dry skillet on the stove – keep an eye on them so they do not burn. Remove from heat and from pan and let cool on a plate. You can salt them while hot if desired.
For the salad:
4 handfuls of mixed greens – radicchio, escarole, or other flavorful greens are a great addition
10 muscadine grapes, quartered and seeded
2 ounces goat cheese, either crumbled or sliced into rounds with the rounds then quartered
Place salad in a bowl and prepare the dressing
For the dressing:
¼ c olive oil (I use a bit less)
2 T lemon juice
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 small green onion, sliced thinly (both white and green parts)
Pinch of coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk the dressing ingredients together.
Toss the salad with the dressing and top with the toasted nuts.