Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The smell and taste of muscadines captures the true essence of fall.   The smell of them fallen on the ground and fermenting brings joy to both me and the honey bees.  This year we went to a vineyard outside of the city and picked muscadines, where we were accompanied by many of the said bees.  They reminded me of this, although it happens at a different time of year, different side of the country, and different winged creature it's still the same joyous outcome:

On a certain day in the shouting springtime great clouds of orangy Monarch butterflies, like twinkling aery fields of flowers, sail high in the air on a majestic pilgrimage across Monerey Bay and land in the outskirts of Pacific Grove in the pine woods.  The butterflies know exactly where they are going.  In the millions they land on several pine trees- always the same trees.  There they suck the thick resinous juice which oozes from the twigs, and they get cockeyed.  The first comers suck their fill and then fall drunken to the ground, where they lie on a golden carpet, waving their inebriate legs in the air and giving off butterfly shouts of celebration, while their places on the twigs are taken by new, thirsty millions.  
John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

thanks Luke

Crawl under the drooping vines and there you'll share a world of rich ripe red, pink, or golden fruits in various stages of ripeness with the bees, who themselves are in various stages of drunkenness, all shouting the same  joyous yells of celebration.

yeah, thanks Luke

I came home and made a few things to remember that by.

Muscadine Jam

My grandmother is the only one who usually makes this, and now I know why.  It is time consuming and you must be patient.  The result is better than anything you could hope for though, so it's completely worth it.  I took this recipe directly from Canning For a New Generation, with the exception that it was made with Concords in the book.  I would prefer muscadines anyway.

  • 4 pounds muscadines red, pink, and/or golden (although it helps to have a fair amount of red, to give the jam a nice rich color), stemmed and rinsed
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
Sterilize 4 half-pint jars in boiling water and keep them hot in the canning pot while you proceed..

Squeeze the grapes one-by-one from their hulls.  It helps to have help, preferably someone who likes the smell of muscadines as much as you do.  Put the hulls in a bowl or saucepan and the pulp in another large saucepan.  Bring the pulp to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the seeds separate from the pulp.  Pour it all into a sieve held over a large saucepan, or ladle batches in the sieve.  Press as much pulp as you can through the sieve with a rubber spatula; discard the seeds.  Add the sugar and about 1/2 of the hulls.  Stir in to melt the sugar and add more hulls to make it nice and thick.  The jam will thicken slightly as it cooks, but it will be more of a preserve, not super thick or gelatinous like jelly.  Some like more skins than others- I added a little over 3/4 of the hulls back and saved the rest for juice.  

Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until a small dab of the jam spooned onto a chilled plate and then returned to the freezer for a moment becomes somewhat firm, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir gently for a few seconds to distribute the hulls in the liquid.

Sterilize the jar lids by pouring boiling water over them, or dunking them in a pot of boiling water for a minute. Be careful not to boil the lids, as that might break down the seals.  Ladle the hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch head-space and process in a boiling-water bath for about 5 minutes.

Store unsealed jars in the fridge and sealed ones amongst your other jars of relishes, pickles, and jams in a cool dark place.

Muscadine Juice

As Liana Krissoff says in Canning for a New Generation:
To make grape juice (for quaffing rather than for jelly), crush the grapes, simmer them (with some whole spices or herb springs (not needed for muscadines I say!), strain, let sit overnight, then strain again.  Return the juice to the pan and add water to dilute it (pure grape juice can be a little intense), add sugar if it needs it (it probably won't), and a bit more lemon juice if desired.  Bring to a boil and then ladle into sterilized pint of quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch head-space, put the lids and rings on, and process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

I added neither water nor sugar to mine and left it as a concentrate, as I didn't know how I would like to use it later.


Elspeth Schulze said...

Oh My, A.T.K. !

I think you've captured an atumnal essence. When we went muscadine pickin' last summer I ate so many that the skin around my lips stung from the acidic skins, and I feel the sting again (in a pleasant way) just reading your account.

What an involved process... I bet you can taste it all, all that involved work. Sweeter for it.

The emptied muscadine skins are beautiful-- like cicada shells, or empty cocoons. They remind me of these odd bits of seaweed we used to find on the Louisiana beach, small, dark brown pillows with lines running the length. We called them mermaid pouches... I'll try to find you some, one day.

I'm glad you catching fall there, in a jar. I could use a spoonful, at some point!

Luke Padgett said...

hurrah for following the drunken bees!