Muscadine grapes are a native North Carolina treasure. Rambling throughout the southeastern United States, muscadines are easy to grow and maintain, and they burst with flavor and nutrients. The deep purple and bronze-toned fruit clusters adorn farms and gardens and are spun into smoothies and grape hull pies, delighting the taste buds of children and adults alike (Figure 1).
Native Americans tended and cultivated the indigenous muscadine grape (Muscadinia rotundifolia) for edible uses such as dried fruit, “Cherokee dumplings,” and other dishes. Early settlers, cultivating selections from the wild, would eat the grapes fresh or use them to make juice and wine. Today, muscadines have numerous uses. The fresh berries can be eaten or processed into juice, wine, jam, jelly, smoothie purees, or nutraceutical products with high levels of health-friendly bioactives. In addition, waste materials (hulls and seeds) are used as feedstocks for animals and fertilizers for plants (Figure 2).
Muscadine or Scuppernong? Both!
Many people commonly call all muscadine grapes “scuppernongs.” Scuppernongs are actually a bronze-colored selection of the muscadine found before 1760 by Isaac Alexander in Tyrrell County, NC. It was first known as the “big white grape” and was later named “Scuppernong” after the area in which it was found. Scuppernong is only one of many cultivars of muscadine grapes.
The Mother Vine
The Mother Vine is a 400-year-old muscadine grape vine that grows in the sandy soils of Roanoke Island in North Carolina (Figure 3). It is believed to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in North America and was likely planted by members of the Croatan Tribe or early English settlers.
The muscadine industry in North Carolina provides grapes for both the fresh and processing markets. In late summer and early fall, fresh muscadines can be found at farmers’ markets, pick-your-own operations, roadside stands, restaurants, and even grocery stores (Figure 4). Commercial producers also grow grapes to be processed into juice, wine, and nutraceutical products. About 1,500 acres of muscadines are grown in the state.
Do you have a muscadine grower in your area? Visit the North Carolina Muscadine Grape Association website and find a farmer near you. Interview your grower and ask about the grower’s vineyard. What cultivar are they growing? Do they grow grapes for a fresh or processed market? Why do they like growing muscadines? Share your findings with your family and friends and visit the farm if you can.
What Is the Muscadine Grape?
The muscadine grape is a member of the grape family and related to table grapes and European wine grapes. It has a large, round fruit called a berry, borne in small clusters (Figure 5). Most muscadines have thick, fleshy skins and contain seeds. The leaves are roundish, not lobed, and have triangular teeth along the margins (Figure 6). The tendrils are unbranched and the vines have aerial roots and a continuous bark structure (Figure 7). Vines have either male or female flowers on separate plants (Figure 8).
Using the photographs in this publication as a model, draw a muscadine grape leaf. What shape does it have? What do the edges look like? With your parents’ permission, go online and find photos of Concord grape leaves. How do these two leaves look different? The same?
Print out the activity worksheet. Connect the dots between each number to explore this important part of the muscadine plant. It is responsible for making the plant’s food through a process called photosynthesis. What part of the plant is it?
Take a hike on a trail in your area. Can you find wild muscadines growing (Figure 9)? What kind of environment are they living in? Can you find flowers or fruit? Where else can you find muscadine grapes growing in your area? Make a map of their locations and visit them at different times of the year to see how the grapevines change.
How to Grow Muscadines
Muscadine grapes are indigenous to the southeastern United States; are well adapted to a hot, humid climate; and tolerate many insect and disease pests. They can be found growing wild from Delaware through Texas, in swamplands, sandy ridges, and open or forested areas (Figure 10).
Where Do They Grow? What Kind to Grow?
Muscadines should be planted in a sunny, well-drained location (Figure 11). Shady sites and wet soil will not allow for productive grapevines. The pH level indicates how acidic or alkaline something is, on a scale of 0 to 14. Muscadines prefer acidic soil with a pH level between 5.8 and 6.5; if the soil pH is too low, the soil can be amended with dolomitic lime. Keep your muscadines lightly fertilized with nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, with no applications late in the fall as this will make the vines more prone to winter injury.
How many berries grow on a muscadine cluster? Does the number of berries differ from cluster to cluster? What about between vines? Between cultivars?
List of Common North Carolina Muscadine Cultivars:
Carlos, Noble, Nesbitt, Doreen, Magnolia, Welder, Alachua, Darlene, Fry, Granny Val, Jumbo, Scarlett, Summit, Supreme, Sweet Jenny, Tara, Triumph (Figure 12)
Planting, Training, and Pruning
Most vines are planted 10 to 20 feet apart. In a backyard garden, vines should be trained on a trellis, arbor, or vertical structure that supports the vine. The vine should then be pruned to maintain optimal fruit production. The basic framework of a vine consists of the trunk, permanent arms (cordons), and the fruiting spurs (branches that bear fruit). A simple trellis can be two posts set about 20 feet apart with a single wire five to six feet above the ground running between posts and anchored firmly at each end. For more information on training and pruning vines, visit Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden.
One way to grow new grape vines is through a process called layering. Follow these steps to create new plants for your garden or friends.
Eating and Cooking
Muscadines are packed with nutrients and phytochemicals that support good health (Figure 15). A good source of fiber and rich in manganese, muscadines are beneficial for digestion, bone production, skin health, blood sugar control, and preventing oxidative damage to cells. They are among the richest fruits in antioxidants.
The entire muscadine fruit is edible. Some people eat the whole berry—skins, seeds, and pulp. Others prefer to squeeze the skin and pop the pulp into their mouth and discard the skins. Still others like to spit the seeds out and only eat the pulp. Try different varieties of muscadines and decide what you like to do! How do the different ways of eating them affect their taste? Which one is your favorite?
There are many different cultivars of muscadine grapes. Visit your local farmers’ market in the late summer or early fall and buy five different kinds of grapes. Taste each type of grapes and evaluate it for flavor, texture, aroma (smell), and appearance. Which do you like best? Least? Why? Do the same taste test with your family and friends and have them rate which grape they like best on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being the least and 5 the best). Make a bar graph of your findings (Figure 16). Which is the most popular grape?
Thoroughly wash and sort two quarts of grapes, then discard any rotten and underripe ones (Figure 17). Place small batches of grapes in a food processor and pulse lightly to break open the skins, but not so much that the seeds are ground up. Put the grapes into a large stockpot and add enough water to keep the grapes from burning on the bottom of the pot. The more water you add, the more diluted your juice flavor. Bring grapes to a boil and then reduce the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer the grapes until the hulls (skins) are tender, about 15 minutes. Let the juice cool. Remove the pulp and juice mixture from the pot and run it through a food mill to extract more juice and to separate the seeds, stems, and skins. Strain the pureed juice stock through several layers of cheesecloth. Store in the refrigerator.
Smoothies and Popsicles
Muscadines have thick, fleshy skins, and most cultivars have seeds. The whole fruit provides the most nutrition and can be delicious if all of it is used. If a high-powered blender is available, use the entire fruit; otherwise, use the pulp mixture that has been cooked and run it through the food mill (see the juice recipe above). Popsicles can just be frozen smoothies, so the recipes below can be used for either liquid or frozen treats! Add all of the ingredients to the blender, mix, and enjoy!
Muscadine Fruit Roll-Ups
To make a fruit roll-up, thoroughly wash and sort 31⁄2 cups of grapes. Put them in a large pot, add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot, and turn the stove to medium-high. Cook the grapes until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the grapes into a food mill and extract the pulp and juice. Discard the seeds. Put the pulp and juice, 3⁄4 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice back into the pot and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the temperature to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick, for 25 to 40 minutes. Caution with kids: the mixture may bubble up and splatter.
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a 12 x 17 baking sheet with a silicone mat or aluminum foil sprayed with cooking oil. Pour the fruit onto the mat or foil in a very thin layer. Bake for about 3 to 31⁄2 hours until the fruit is barely tacky. Cut the fruit into rectangles and then place on wax paper and roll it up! Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Experiment by adding other fruit, too!
Science Activities with Muscadines
In chemistry, pH is a scale used to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. Water is generally considered neutral and has a pH of 7 on a scale of 0 to 14. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are acidic, and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are alkaline or basic.
Lemon juice is acidic and baking soda is alkaline. Scientists can tell whether a substance is an acid or a base by using an indicator. An indicator is typically a chemical that changes color if it comes in contact with an acid or a base. Grapes can be used as a pH indicator:
- Obtain or extract some muscadine grape juice.
- Make a small amount of baking soda solution by adding 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 tablespoon water.
- Pour some grape juice into the baking soda solution. Does the color change? What does it look like? Why did this happen? Baking soda is a base. Indicator solutions such as grape juice change color as acids and bases are added.
- What do you think will happen to the color of grape juice when an acid like vinegar is added? Pour a tablespoon of vinegar into 1⁄2 cup of grape juice. What happens? What if you add more vinegar? Does anything change?
- What happens if you add the vinegar-grape juice solution to the baking soda-grape juice solution? Did you see bubbles form as a reaction between acid and base? What color is the solution now?
Many thanks to the North Carolina Muscadine Grape Association for its generous support, which made this publication possible.
Andersen, P., Crocker, T. and Breman, J. 2003. The Muscadine Grape. Publication #HS763. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
Fisk, C., Bloodworth, B.K., Cline, B. and Jones, W. 2008. Propagating Muscadine Grapes. AG-698. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Poling, B. and Fisk, C. 2006. Muscadine Grapes in the Home Garden. Horticulture Information Leaflet. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Poling, B., Mainland, C., Bland, W., Cline, B., and Sorensen, K. 2003. Muscadine Grape Production Guide for North Carolina. AG-94. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Publication date: Sept. 19, 2016
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