BY COLLEEN THOMPSON
U.S. Highway 421 toward Brunswick County, carries scuppernong jelly, shelved
between the elderberry jam, preserved bourbon peaches and kudzu jelly (yes, that’s
actually a thing).
“This is the flavor of the old North Carolina,” Flowers says. “They’re a kind of grape
and they only grow here in the South. Makes a mighty fine wine, jam, jelly, juice and pie.”
Scuppernongs have grown wild here for more than 400 years, from the Coastal Plain
through the Piedmont, up and over the Great Smoky Mountains. They’ve been part
of Southern food culture long before cornbread and pig pickings.
a short history A N D B OTA N Y L E S S O N
If you thought California was king of the hill when it comes
to vines and all things oenological, you would be mistaken.
The Mother of all vines is found on the northern end of North
Carolina’s Roanoke Island.
There she sits, like she has for the past four centuries,
her gnarled trunk almost two feet thick, with a canopy that
has been trained over almost an acre of land. She is reput-edly
the oldest cultivated grapevine in the world and it
is from her bows that the exotic-sounding scuppernong
Scuppernongs (Vitis rotundifolia) are a kind of muscadine
varietal, and are among only four grape varieties native to North
America. All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines
are scuppernongs. Their primary difference lies in their relationship; one is a cul-tivar
of the other. Muscadine cultivars cover a spectrum of colorful shades, but there
are two primary colors — black (or purple) and bronze.
The Cherokee and Creek Indians used muscadines for making raisins, dumplings, drinks,
and poultices long before European and Spanish explorers set foot on American soil. The
saying “as American as apple pie” really should be “as American as muscadine.” Native only to
the Southeastern and Southern United States, muscadines thrive in the warm, humid climate.
Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano wrote in his logbook in 1524 “... Many vines
growing naturally there ...” after finding established muscadines proliferating in the Cape
Fear River basin.
Ripe, golden scuppernongs
in a painting from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture