Saturday, August 27, 2005

Southern Grapes

Thank goodness, it's raining! It started during the night, and we've had a steady soft rain all morning. This is the first real rain we've had since August 6, so nobody in Memphis will be complaining about ruining a weekend.

My friend David asked me if I would like to go to the Agricenter Farmers Market with him this morning and I jumped at the chance. The good part was that I was able to get around fairly easily in the wheelchair (by the way, probably only about four more weeks of that!) since it wasn't at all crowded. The bad part was that some of the outdoor folks--Patsy the herb lady, Lindsey the flower man, Tinker the heirloom tomato man--weren't there due to the rain.

There was abundant produce, though, and I bought way too much...I'll have to get cracking in the kitchen. I'll tell you about some of what I do later.

But I thought those not in the South might find this interesting. Muscadine grapes are at the market right now. These are big, tough-skinned grapes, grown throughout most of the south. In fact they look more like small plums. Sorry for the blurry shot, but you can see how big they are. The bronze ones are called either white muscadines, or scuppernongs. They have an unusual flavor, very sweet and almost musky. In the South a lot of families will make wine from it...nothing you would serve with a fine French meal, but perfect for chilling and sipping on the veranda on a warm Southern summer afternoon. But I think the best thing to do is to make jelly.
Start with about 3 quarts of grapes. With a potato masher or the bottom of a glass, mash them, skins, seeds and all. Put in a pan and add water to not quite cover, probably around 2 cups. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the skins are tender. Strain through a fine-holed colander, pressing gently on the solids. Discard the solids, put the juice into a glass container, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Now you have two choices. If you want a very clear jelly, you must strain it again through a jelly bag (or through several layers of dampened cheesecloth), letting it drip for several hours. Or you can use the juice as is. Into a large pot, measure out 5 cups of juice . Add the juice of a lemon, a box of powdered pectin and 7 cups of sugar. Let it set for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times. Then over high heat, bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 90 seconds, remove from heat and skim off any foam. Pour into sterilized jelly jars, and seal.

This also makes a good hot pepper jelly. Just add a couple of chopped jalapeno or habanero peppers to the grapes for the first cooking.

Besides the obvious--spreading on a well buttered biscuit with your breakfast of eggs, country ham and grits--you can add a bit to the pan juices of roast pork, lamb or game. You can also melt it and brush on meats or chicken toward the end of grilling.

Too much trouble, or you can't get muscadines where you live? The jelly is available from several online sources, such as Calhoun Produce.

1 comment:

Larry said...

For those that have never harvested Muscadines, they don't grow in clusters like grapes. They are a single berry at the end of a stem so they are picked one at a time. My picking experience has been with wild fruit and it occured to me that cultivated fruit may grow in bunches.