G rowing up in rural Alabama, I enjoyed the Southern harvest each season produced. Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. It brings relief from the stifling summer heat, but more importantly, it yields fresh muscadine grapes from Meemaw and Pawpaw’s backyard. The dark purple fruit grows along a woven vine next to their tattered red barn.
Many great childhood memories involved those sweet vines: my first, not-so-sweet yellow jacket sting while in Pawpaw’s sturdy arms, learning to make muscadine jam with Meemaw in her cozy kitchen, and the precious playtime with cousins who, like myself, have grown up and journeyed away from that idyllic place in time.
Native to the Southeastern U.S., muscadine grapes are known as America’s first grape. In 1584, English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh said of the plentiful crop, “In all the world the like abundance is not to be found.”1 When I moved to Tennessee, I was thrilled to find my favorite fall treat is available each year at the local farmers’ market.
The thick hull can be colored a deep rich purple, or a light pale green (a variety called scuppernongs). Most commonly found with seeds, the fruit can be eaten whole or without the hull. One should note the fruit’s flesh is sweeter, while the hull provides a tart surprise. Like all foods grown from this fertile earth, muscadine grapes have many nutritious qualities, most notably their antioxidant content. Research published by the Journal of Food Science reported that muscadines have more antioxidants than any other grape variety.2 Scientists have long studied these powerful chemicals, which have been shown to reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells (specifically breast cancer and prostate cancer cells).3 The American Heart Association reports that one particular antioxidant, resveratrol, has been linked to the healthy aging of skin and a reduced risk of heart disease.4
So take advantage of the mighty muscadines while they’re here! They can be enjoyed in many ways. Press the grapes into rich red wine, cook them down for muscadine jam, or savor the sweetness straight from the vine.
Resources: 1. Stanley, D. “America’s First Grape: The Muscadine.” United States Dept. of Agriculture: Agriculture Research Service. 2007. Accessed on February 17, 2014. http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/ar/archive/nov97/musc1197.htm 2. You, Q., F. Chen, X. Wang, et al. “Analysis of Phenolic Composition of Noble Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) by HPLC-MS and the Relationship to Its Antioxidant Capacity.” J Food Sci. 2012; 77 (10): 1115–1123. 3. “The Health Benefits of Muscadine Grapes, Wine, and Nutraceuticals.” M.D. News. 2008. Accessed on February 17, 2014. http://www.ncagr.gov/markets/Portals/10/Documents/MD%20News%20June%202008.pdf 4. American Heart Association. “Alcohol and Heart Disease.” 2012. Accessed on February 19, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/UnderstandYourRiskofHeartAttack/Alcohol-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_305173_Article.jsp