WELOME AUTUMN by Dotti Hydue
My sisters up in Michigan will soon be harvesting pumpkins and gourds as autumn draws near. Cider mills will open, enticing visitors with fresh cider, crisp apples, apple dumplings, and homemade jams and jellies. I know fall is approaching along the Nature Coast by the smell of peanuts that have been turned in the fields and by the appearance of America’s native grape at local fruit stands. Early explorers and settlers found copious quantities of Vitis rotundifolia or muscadines, growing throughout the Southeast when they first came to America’s shores. These large round grapes grow in loose clusters instead of bunches and have either a bronze or greenish skin (aka scuppernong grapes) or a dark skin. All parts of this grape are highly nutritious, even the seeds can be dried and ground into a healthful powder. Muscadines contain more than twice the antioxidant power of pomegranates, almost three times that of blueberries, and an astounding nine times more than red grapes. They are higher in fiber than a similar serving of oats, are low in fat and sodium, and contain healthy amounts of potassium and Vitamin C. Their thick skins, where the majority of antioxidants are stored, give muscadine grapes a natural resistance to disease, fungi, and insects.
The accompanying photo shows packaged muscadines on sale at a large chain grocery store. There are several reasons you don’t want to buy grapes like these. Once grapes are removed from their stems, they begin to deteriorate rapidly. These grapes were going soft and many appeared bruised, especially ones at the bottom that I could see when I turned the container over. The open wound where the stem was removed is the perfect breeding place for mold and other organisms you don’t want to ingest. When buying produce, always choose fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables that have a bright color and no signs of bruising or soft spots. Skins should be intact; puncture wounds can harbor harmful bacteria. Refrigerate your purchases as soon as you get home (unless they need to ripen) and wash thoroughly before eating.
Muscadines can be used in any recipe that calls for regular grapes including wine, jams and jellies, and pies, although their strong, musky flavor might not be to everyone’s liking. The following recipes might tempt you to give these nutritious powerhouses a try.
- Muscadine Juice
- Use the juice to make jelly, or refreshing beverages as noted below.
- 3 pounds muscadine grapes
- 1 cup water
Destem, wash and crush grapes or lightly chop in a food processor. Place in large saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Ladle or pour mixture through a double thickness of damp cheesecloth or jelly bag; discard solids.
To use, blend 1 cup juice with 2 cups crushed ice for a refreshing slushie. Mix one part juice with two parts raspberry flavored sparkling water and serve over ice or pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Add the cubes to ice tea or lemonade.
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- Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 cups muscadine grapes, about 2 pounds
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
Heat the oven to 400°. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust, leaving a 1-inch overhang.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour and salt, and stir to mix well.
Squeeze the grapes over a medium saucepan, dropping the pulpy, seed-filled grapes into the pan and placing the skins, or hulls, into a medium bowl. Add 3 tablespoons water to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil and cook the grape pulp until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked grape pulp to a strainer and place it over the bowl of grape hulls. Using the back of a large spoon to get as much pulp as possible, press the grapes through the strainer, pushing the softened pulp into the pan with the hulls while separating out the large, round seeds. Discard the seeds. Transfer the hulls and pulp to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat to soften the hulls, about another 5 minutes more.
Add the sugar mixture and lemon juice to the grapes and stir to mix well. Pour the filling into the piecrust. Sprinkle the small bits of butter over the filling, distributing it evenly. Lightly wet the rim of the bottom piecrust to help seal it.
Roll the remaining dough into a 10-inch circle and place over the filling. Crimp the edges to seal the two crusts. Cut 6 or 8 slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.
Place the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet, and place it on the lower shelf of the preheated oven. Bake 10 minutes, and then reduce heat to 350°. Bake until the crust is a golden brown and the grape juices are bubbling up through the slits, about 40 to 50 minutes longer. Let cool on rack at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired.
The start of fall hunting season for bow and crossbow hunters only begins September 19 in Zone C. Antlered or antlerless deer, turkey, gray squirrel, and quail can be taken. Check myFWC.com/hunting for all current regulations governing hunters including bag limits, definitions of terms, zone changes, and start/end dates for muzzleloading and general gun season before heading out into the woods. There are a few more weeks of scallop season left before those sweet and tasty bivalves are off limits. Their season closes September 24.
IF YOU PLANTED late summer vegetables, you should be harvesting tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, eggplant, and other heat-loving vegetables now. Lucky you! I enjoyed my summer break from garden chores, but am getting seeds started now for fall brassicas (broccoli family), lettuces, collards and other greens, and some herbs. I will start planting in earnest come October. Be sure and clean up old mulch and plant debris that can harbor insect eggs and/or diseases before planting your fall garden.
September Days of Note:
7 = Labor Day
11 = Patriot Day, National Day of Service and Remembrance
12 = Chocolate Milk Shake Day
13 = National Peanut Day
18 = National Cheeseburger Day
21 = International Peace Day
23 = Autumnal Equinox
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