After nearly three years, I finally found some Muscadines, my favorite kind of grapes! Also called Scuppernongs; sometimes I call them “Florida grapes.” They are larger than other grapes, have a rubbery skin, don’t come in a seedless variety, and don’t grow in bunches; that’s how you recognize them. The picture above shows the two colors they come in, deep purple and greenish-bronze.
In Florida they’re the only kind of grapes that can be easily grown; my Dad has some on a fence in his backyard. However, even there a lot of people aren’t familiar with them; heck, I only discovered them in 1992, more than twenty years after my arrival in Florida. I can think of two reasons why. First, a short season. In the United States, grapes can ripen anytime from June to October, and for the other months, we can ship them from southern hemisphere locations like Chile. Muscadines, on the other hand, ripen in August, so the only time you’re likely to find them is in September. Second, most of the supermarkets don’t carry muscadines. You won’t find them in Winn Dixie, Publix or Albertson’s. Usually I got them from Mom & Pop grocery stores and roadside stands, or from Wal-Mart. In Orlando, Wal-Mart was the best bet, both the Supercenters and the Neighborhood Markets; in 2005 they had some as late as early November.
South Georgia seems to be the largest grower of muscadines (that’s where the Wal-Mart packages come from). I know Alabama has them because they are mentioned in the literature classic “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which is set in Alabama in the 1930s, and I know Mississippi has them because Jerry Clower once told a funny story about geese getting drunk on muscadines, called “The Grassers.” You can listen to it at these links:
Link 3 (Warning: the beginning, where Jerry tells what muscadines are, is cut off)
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find muscadines anywhere after I moved to Kentucky in 2006. Not at Meijer, not at Kroger, not at Save-A-Lot, and not even at the local Wal-Marts. Back in February 4, 2007, I wrote about trying to get them from Meijer, and ending up with a package of very dark cherries instead. Last year I was told that Wild Oats, a big health food store on the south side of town, sometimes carries them, but they never had any when I called or visited in September of 2007. A month or two ago I learned that Kentucky vineyards are starting to grow muscadines, but only for wine (muscatel, you know).
I called again last Friday, and this time Wild Oats had them! But that wasn’t the biggest surprise; since I was last there, they had been bought out by Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods is quite familiar to me; they’ve had a store in Winter Park, FL, for the past ten years, just a mile from my parent’s house. In fact, When I was in Florida last June, I went to Whole Foods to use their wi-fi connection on Leive’s laptop, because I couldn’t get a good Internet connection from the house. Now I feel like they followed me here, and so did some of the sparrows that flock in their parking lot.
Anyway, I got three packages from them on Saturday, at $3.99 each. Alas, they didn’t have the green kind, but having just the purple kind is better than no muscadines at all. Here’s a close-up shot:
And here are all three packages, with the bag they came in. Brin-Brin is looking on from the back:
Of course finding them made my day. I took one package to church to share with our friends, and we finished the second one today, so I’ll probably have to go back to the store if I want some for the Tuesday night men’s cell group. Now the only other thing I’m missing from Florida are St. Augustine-style datil pepper sauces, which so far I’ve only seen in gift packages around Christmastime. Well, recently I bought a jar of some hot pepper relish from a company called Kentucky Proud, which looks a lot like Hellish Relish. If I can’t get the St. Augustine stuff, maybe the locals will make a substitute just as good.