Happy Corner: It’s Scuppernong Time
If you live on a farm your life revolves around the crops that are in season, not the calendar. Early spring it’s the planting of the early crops and then enjoying the bounty of new potatoes, squash, English peas, and green beans. Just a little later, my favorite crop, the sweet corn comes in followed by field peas, field corn, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers and don’t forget watermelons and cantaloupes. As summer ends and fall approaches, it’s time to harvest green peanuts for boiling, and it’s time to plant the greens: turnips, mustard, collards, and now we plant kale, though in years past, that was not on my family’s list. One crop that’s harvested in the fall is sweet potatoes. Harvesting them was quite a chore as we sold some, but we also banked some for our family’s use during the winter.
I have vivid memories of picking up sweet potatoes as we crawled along the plowed rows. Numerous potato wars broke out between my younger brother Clyde and I. Since that was relatively easy work, we were often left to do that job while the older boys did more difficult chores.That was one of my favorite winter menu items. (A previous column told how to bank potatoes.)
My family mostly sold produce, so planting was a constant, even while harvesting was taking place. I always thought my Dad was pretty smart that he knew the right time to plant certain things. Some farmers he knew were strict adherents to the Farmers Almanac and planted by phases of the moon, but he paid more attention to the seasoning of the soil: how wet or dry it was and how much it had warmed up after the winter. I think it also was determined by how much time he could spare from harvesting to sell because picking peas, gathering corn, cutting okra, and all those things was an ongoing job.
Not only was harvesting the bounty of the crops a daily job, but preparing enough to feed all of us as well as whoever was helping us daily was an ongoing chore. In addition to that, much of the produce was canned for when they were out of season, especially peas, corn and tomatoes.
For us, the Tison family, blueberry season is our main season and for that time, we have not done much gardening over the past 25 years, but since son Glen has taken over that enterprise, we’ve done a little gardening. Now it’s Scuppernong season or Muscadine season. When I was growing up, almost every farmstead had a scuppernong vine that was trained to grow on an arbor and ours was not a marketing product, but for our and our visitors’ enjoyment. What we have now are for marketing and both our sons are involved in that, thanks to a program sponsored by Florida A & M University a number of years ago. I am often asked ,”What’s the difference between muscadine and scuppernong?” Here’s what I think. Muscadine is the overall category and scuppernong was an early variety that was produced in this area. What we grow are more improved varieties such as Fry and Pam, large bronze, Cowart a large purple, and Dorene a pink grape shaped fruit, and some other varieties. When I was teaching we had the spelling word scuppernong and I learned several local pronunciations. We called them scupplins, although our mama knew and used the correct pronunciation. The one I heard most from my 8th graders was scufflin.
I am a big fan of this sweet, juicy fruit that is not classified as a grape. They can be used to produce wine. Products made from them are featured at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. Today I have been busy making jelly from the juice of some of those split from the heavy rains this week. I also made jam yesterday and I learned how to prepare them for that and for pies from Callaway Gardens recipes.
A muscadine pie recipe follows: One quart of ripe muscadines, one deep crust pie crust and one top crust. (I purchase these) Wash grapes. In a pan, pop them one by one and tear hulls in half and toss into a boiler. Bring pulp to a boil and cook for 15 minutes till seeds are freed. Barley cover the hulls with water and bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes or longer till hulls are tender. Put the pulp with the seeds through a strainer and remove all seeds. Combine the pulp and juice with the cooked hulls. Assemble the pie by pouring the cooked fruit into the deep dish shell. Mix ¼ cup cornstarch with ¾ cup sugar and sprinkle over fruit. Top with ½ stick butter and top with remaining crust. Cut 4 or 5 slits in the top crust and sprinkle with a TBS of sugar. Bake for one hour in a 350 degree oven.
Serve warm or cold with ice cream or whipped topping.