Muscadines are native Southern grapes appearing in markets starting in late August. Georgia is the leading producer of these sweet treats even though they are the official state fruit of North Carolina.
After living in Atlanta for over ten years, I am embarrassed to admit I did not taste my first muscadine until last week. My Yankee background had no reference point for them so I always just passed them by. My curiosity was piqued when I was offered one at the Farmer’s Market.
I instantly fell in love at first bite with the sweet Southern quirkiness of the muscadine. The skin is pretty tough and somewhat like the texture of a plum. The bitter, not insignificant seeds will not be ignored. Yet the ambrosial pulpy nectar makes the skin and seeds worth dealing with. Muscadines remind me of oversized concord grapes; which I also adore.
I always thought scuppernongs were a different fruit than muscadines, but the farmer explained this is what the white and bronze varieties of muscadines are called. Scuppernongs are also not as sweet as their purple hulled relatives.
When I asked the farmer and his knowing muscadine customers what to make with them, they seemed a bit perplexed and told me to just eat them like candy. They were kind, but said this to me in a little bit of a “bless your heart” sort of way. As in, “honey, why would you make them into something else when they taste perfectly fine as is?” Someone halfheartedly mentioned that maybe I could make wine with them. Wine making is currently not part of my cooking skill set
I guess I’m a lazy grape eater and just do not like the bother of seeds. Mindlessly eating seeded grapes by the handful is not really an option. If I buy them and have to take the effort to seed them, I might as well cook them in some way.
I wandered the market and picked up a bunch of green onions and arugula
a bunch of lovely looking French breakfast radishesand my favorite tasting feta cheese to make a seasonal salad using my precious muscadines Once home, I picked some arugula flowers to add to my salad. Many of the herbs and greens in my garden are natural sources for edible flowers. Arugula, borage, mustard, lavender, garlic chives, and basil are some of my favorites. The flowers are not essential to the recipe but a pretty addition if you have them growing in your garden.
I seeded and roasted the muscadines to soften the skin a little and magnify the sweet grapiness of the pulp.
When my sweet husband went to Paris almost 25 years ago on a business trip, I asked him to make the obligatory cook’s journey to E. Dehillerin and bring me back a mandoline. I still smile and remember his newlywed diligence every time I use it. It was only fitting for me to slice the classic French radishes on the mandolin even though a knife can just as easily be used.I did not want an overpowering vinaigrette so I stayed with the grape theme and added a white wine vinegar (vinegar made from wine…wine made from grapes) and muscadine pulp cooked only slightly and mashed through a sieve.
The resulting salad may not be a Southern tradition like popping muscadines in your mouth or distilling wine, but I think it pays homage to the qualities that make the muscadine such a beloved seasonal Southern treat.
ROASTED MUSCADINE GRAPES, ARUGULA, AND FETA RECIPE
serves 4 as a salad course
There are a few steps involved in preparing this salad; roasting the muscadines, making muscadine juice, and making the vinaigrette using the juice. Each step is fairly easy and straightforward. Putting the salad together become a breeze if you do these steps up to a few days before making the salad.
16 muscadines, cut in half and seeds removed with the tip of a knife
2 tsp olive oil
pinch kosher salt
pinch of fresh ground pepper
Roast Muscadines –
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
On a lightly oil sheet tray (or one covered with parchment or a Silpat mat) mix the 16 cut muscadines, 2 tsp olive oil, salt and pepper.
Place the muscadines cut side down on the tray.
Roast for 15 minutes until muscadines are slightly shriveled and carmelized on cut side
Remove from oven and cool
Muscadine Vinaigrette Recipe
1 Tbs muscadine juice (recipe below)
1 tsp white wine or champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
pinch fresh ground black pepper
Place 6 cut and deseeded muscadines in small saucepan with 1 Tbs water. Mash lightly with back of fork or small potato masher
Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until muscadines soften slightly and start giving off juice
Remove from heat and pour into small sieve set over small bowl
With spoon press on muscadines to extract as much juice as possible
Use this juice in vinaigrette
Add muscadine juice, vinegar, Dijon, salt and pepper to small bowl.
Add olive oil a little bit at a time and thoroughly whisk into a smooth mixture
Place all ingredients except roasted muscadines and feta in a bowl. Add enough vinaigrette to just barely coat them and mix carefully with your hands. Gently add muscadines and sprinkle feta over salad. Serve as soon as possible after dressing.