changing P E RC E P T I O N
Before the Civil War, North Carolina ranked as the leading wine
producer in the United States. Muscadine wine was so popular by
the early 20th century that North Carolina enjoyed a reputation
rivalling Napa Valley.
In 1919, Prohibition changed everything — although urban leg-end
has doctors prescribing scuppernong “tonic.” Upon its repeal,
drier European wines flooded the increasingly sophisticated market,
leaving muscadines to moonshiners.
Today, it’s esti-mated
about 3,200 acres of
in Georgia, North
and Florida. Typically,
the wines are made in
a sweet style, making
oenophiles scoff at the
thought of sipping a
has started to see a
shift in muscadine
Co-owner Jonathan Fussell says there has been an increase in their
wines on restaurant menus, partly due to a revived interest in food
and drink indigenous to a region.
In the true tradition of a Southern cook’s waste not, want not ethos,
thrifty, flavor-conscious cooks figured out a long time ago how to
make use of every part of the fruit. They squeezed the pulp out of their
skins into a bowl, catching the juice and saving the thick skins (hulls).
After discarding the big, round seeds, the pulp and hulls were cooked
together and turned into jelly, fermented into wine, or simmered with
sugar, a bit of flour, and butter to make a thick, juicy lattice-topped
Between the steps involved in preparation, the shortness of
their season and the challenges of finding these heirloom gems,
the pie has faded from its former glory of the first half of the 20th
century, when it was a staple in Southern kitchens. Scuppernong
hull pie recipes are Southern relics of a forgotten time these days,
passed down like treasures.
Nancie McDermott, author of “Southern Pies,” grew up spitting
out hulls in her grandparents’ arbor.
“I cherish scuppernongs. I like the frugality and respect for ingre-dients,”
she says. But she admits making a pie is quite a production.
When they’re cooked, scuppernongs have a sweet and tart flavor
bursting with tones of honeysuckle, wildflower and orange blos-som.
American chefs are rediscovering their ancient charms and
creating a new iden-tity
for them with
in both savory and
“The skin holds
its shape but loses its
chewy brawn, and
the flesh becomes
the jammy essence
of muscadine,” says
chef Vivian Howard,
author of “Deep Run
Roots.” “If the seeds
weren’t such a pain to
extract, I’d probably
put roasted musca-dines
from ice cream to
Early fall is harvest time for scuppernongs, which mature from early August to September.
Acheson of Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, roasts whole scupper-nongs
that he serves with veal. Karen Barker, the pastry chef at the
Magnolia Grill in Durham, cooks muscadines with honey and a
touch of orange juice to make a muscadine syrup that she serves with
poached Seckel pears. Chef Jason Scott of Island Grille in Atlantic
Beach does a historic rendition of a lemon custard pie, integrating
sweetened muscadine grapes and whipped goat cheese.
There is something quietly reassuring when scuppernongs
arrive each fall without fail, just as they have for centuries. They
are reminder to pay attention to the ebb and flow of the seasons
and celebrate their arrival.
In our modern world of seedless, easy-to-peel fruits, scupper-nongs
and muscadines, with their thick skin and profusion of seeds,
straddle that growing divide between tradition and convenience.
But they’ve managed to stay right here at home, alive and well and
part of that inseparable food connection to Southern culture.
North Carolina celebrates its muscadine and scuppernong heritage annually during the North Carolina Muscadine Festival, taking
place this year September 29-30 in Kenansville.
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