Europe isn't the only place with its own native grapes. The United States has some of its own too, and that's where muscadines and scuppernongs come in. These large, round grapes with a storied background make for great jams and wines. They are beloved fruits in Southern cooking especially, where the hot and humid weather of that region helps them thrive.
What Are Muscadines and Scuppernongs?
Other than having names that are fun to say, these grapes are similar but not the same. The muscadine is actually a native American grape, Vitis rotundifolia, found in the southeastern and south-central U.S., and scuppernongs are a variety of muscadine. In other words, all scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs. Both types are bigger and rounder than cultivated grapes you'd buy in the grocery store, with seeds and thicker skins. They are an easily foraged fruit in regions where they grow abundantly in the U.S.
Muscadines are American grapes about 1 1/2 inches in size. They don't grow in tight bunches, but in clusters of four or more fruits, and are commonly used in jams, jellies, wines, and just about any recipe that uses grapes or grape juice. Seeing the similarity to the sweet, muscat grapes they knew in Europe for making wine, the early settlers gave these grapes the same name, which eventually morphed into muscadine.
The scuppernong is a greenish or bronze variety of muscadine. At first, it was simply called the "big white grape." During the 17th and 18th centuries cuttings of the mother vine were placed into production around Scuppernong, a small town in North Carolina whose name comes from ascopo, the Algonquin Indian word for the sweet bay tree.
How to Use Muscadines and Scuppernongs
Any way you'd use a conventional grape, you can use these two varieties. They're a little different than conventional grapes, but their sweetness makes them excellent candidates for all kinds of culinary uses. They don't need any extensive prep or cleaning, either.
There's a long history of winemaking using these grapes, but they can be incorporated into jam, jelly, sorbet, and pie, too. Grapes are a great snack, and muscadines and scuppernong grapes are no exception.
What Do They Taste Like?
The texture of muscadines is softer and the taste sweeter than conventional supermarket grapes, with a melt-in-your-mouth feel and seeds you can simply just spit out. Muscadines possess the intense sweetness of a Concord grape, whereas scuppernongs are slightly less sweet.
Muscadine and Scuppernong Recipes
Where to Buy Muscadines and Scuppernongs
These grapes are in season from late July to October in the southwestern and south-central U.S., depending on where they're grown. They're easy to find from Kentucky and states to the south and as far west as East Texas, but they are also capable of growing as far south as Florida and as far north as the New Jersey coast. There are even some vineyards in Florida that allow you to pick your own.
If you can't find them at roadside stands or farmers markets (or in your neighbor's yard), sometimes you can find them in the frozen section of supermarkets. It's also possible to buy them online directly from vineyards, and have them shipped—but that comes with a higher cost.
Starter vines are available at nurseries and online if you would like to start your own backyard vineyard, whether for eating or winemaking. Provided your climate is hot and humid enough, they aren't tough to grow, and their thick skins offer natural disease resistance. You'll need space for a trellis, but the efforts will yield sweet rewards.
Store these grapes in the fridge, unwashed, until ready to eat, and they'll keep for a week or so. Grapes freeze well, in general, and these make a terrific snack once frozen and can be tossed that way right into smoothies.
Nutrition and Benefits
Scuppernongs contain vitamins A, B2, and C, along with fiber and a variety of minerals such as manganese, potassium, and copper. They also happen to be antioxidant powerhouses, high in total phenolic compounds, ellagic acid, and catechins. Some companies sell the seeds and skins of these grapes for use in nutritional supplements.