Over the past several weeks, there has been much ado about muscadines in the Cooperative Extension office. No wonder. These grapes, often called “the grape of the South” are both a tasty treat and good for you. In honor of any North Carolina “newcomers”, today’s article will give you additional information about muscadines.
History of the muscadine. The muscadine, often called the “grape of the South” is a type of wild grape that grows well in the southern and eastern United States. Muscadines have been gathered for centuries to make jellies, jams, preserves and homemade wine. The first reported variety of the muscadine was the Scuppernong vine found in North Carolina by Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in 1554. The Scuppernong was named for the Scuppernong River, which runs from Washington County to the Albemarle Sound in eastern North Carolina.
Scuppernong is the original variety of the bronze muscadine discovered growing in the wild. This was the first grape to be actively cultivated in the United States. Today, improved bronze varieties of muscadine grapes, such as Carlos and Magnolia have been developed for commercial use. In the South, most southerners still refer to any bronze muscadines as Scuppernongs. Purple or black varieties are commonly called muscadines. Muscadine grapes do not grow in conventional bunches and when they are ripe they can be easily shaken from the vine.
Scuppernong or muscadine. There seems to be some confusion exists about the difference between the Scuppernong and the Muscadine. A popular saying is, “All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs.” There are now numerous varieties of muscadines for fresh eating and other products. They tend to vary in appearance, depending on the type, and range in hue from bronze to black. So, to be accurate, it is better to use the term muscadine when the species is unknown.
Muscadines are often referred to as nature’s healthiest grape. They have, by far, the highest levels of antioxidants of any grape. Studies show that the main antioxidants, ellagic acid and resveratrol, can play a key role in preventing cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. Other nutrients found in muscadines include vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B, and trace minerals. Muscadines are naturally fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. Each cup of muscadine grapes contains about 100 calories.
Using muscadines. Muscadines are often used in making jellies, jams, preserves, syrups and sauces. Fresh muscadines can be eaten, but because they contain seeds and have thick skins, usually only the pulp is eaten raw. Fresh muscadines are often deseeded, the pulp and hulls cooked and used in breads, cakes and pies.
How to store muscadines. Store muscadines in a covered shallow container in the refrigerator for best results. Do not wash them until you are ready to use them – this prevents the muscadines from decaying due to moisture. They will keep for up to a week depending upon their original condition, but are best if used within a few days. Inspect the grapes periodically and remove ones which show signs of decay.
Amounts to pick. 2 cups = ¾ pound; 3 quarts = about 4-1/2 pounds; 1 quart = about 1-1/2 pounds; 1 gallon = 4 quarts= 5-1/2 to 6 pounds.
Freezing muscadines. Choose fully ripe firm, sweet grapes. Sort, stem and wash. Separate pulp from hulls, saving both. Heat pulp to boiling to separate seed. Mix juice with hulls and boil until the hulls are tender (15 to 20 minutes). Mix softened hulls with deseeded pulp. Add one part sugar to six parts grapes, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cool and pack, leaving headspace. Seal and freeze.
Local sources of muscadines. For a directory of local farmers’ markets and road side stands which offer muscadines, visit the Foothills Fresh website at www.foothillsfresh.com or contact the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office at 704.922.2118. Visiting local vendors is a great way to try a variety of muscadine products, such as cider, wine, and jellies.
Celebrate North Carolina’s rich heritage and take part in the sweet experience
of muscadines by visiting one of the many vineyards located throughout our state. Once you discover what you have been missing, you are sure to join in on the excitement surrounding our state’s natural wonder, muscadines.
Linda Minges is a registered dietitian with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service (gaston.ces.ncsu.edu). You can contact her for more information on the Cook Smart, Eat Smart program, as well as for information on nutrition and food safety at 704-922-2127 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.