A bowl of Muscadines; the green ones are Scuppernongs.
Dear Faithful Family & Friends,
I am no poet, although my son-in-law, Daniel Stewart, is. In a recent post, I tried my hand at prose, to communicate the mere essence of a thing, by employing an economy of words. My husband objects, however, and encourages me to further explain my thoughts. So, having first offered to you the barest “whiff” of The Fragrance of Scuppernongs, I will offer [in increments] the background story of my fascination with the wild grapes. Below please find descriptions of the Scuppernong. Today’s entry is a mere introduction; in future blog entries, I will enlarge on this theme and how it relates to my grandmother and to me.
The Wild Grapes
In September 1984, I was at a small, locally owned grocery store in Tallahassee, when I caught the whiff of a delightful aroma, which immediately transported me back to the NC home and gardens of my grandmother. Following the scent, I re-discovered ripened Scuppernongs, a fragrance I had not enjoyed since I was a young girl. It is amazing how a fragrance has the ability to release memories, seemingly forgotten. In one moment, the memories of my childhood visits to my grandmother’s home came rushing back and I recorded the details, as quickly as I could remember them. My father, an Air Force officer, was stationed in Japan [from 1956-1957] and my mother and siblings and I remained in Yadkinville, NC. Since my grandmother’s birthday was September 16, we traveled to her home, in nearby Winston-Salem, NC, to celebrate her birthday, when the Scuppernongs were ripe. It is the memories of those two years, especially the summer and early autumn of those years, that will provide the backbone for future blog entries. It’s “just the facts” today.
Some of my Alert Readers [even Southerners] did not recognize the name of the fruit. Please note that the proper spelling is “Scuppernong,” with a capital “S.” Evidently, Wikipedia does not know this. I did not correct the spelling or punctuation in the description below but I did delete the subheadings and references.
The name comes from the Scuppernong River in North Carolina mainly along the coastal plain, where it was first mentioned as a “white grape” in a written logbook by the Florentine explorer Giovanni de Verrazzano while exploring the Cape Fear River Valley in 1524 . . . Sir Walter Raleigh‘s explorers, the captains Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, wrote in 1584 that North Carolina’s coast was “…so full of grapes as the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them…in all the world, the like abundance is not to be found.” And in 1585, Governor Ralph Lane, when describing North Carolina to Raleigh, stated that “We have discovered the main to be the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven, so abounding with sweet trees that bring rich and pleasant, grapes of such greatness, yet wild, as France, Spain, nor Italy hath no greater…”
It was first cultivated during the 17th century, particularly in Tyrrell County. Isaac Alexander found it while hunting along the banks of a stream feeding into Scuppernong Lake in 1755; it is mentioned in the North Carolina official state toast. The name itself traces back to the Algonquian word ascopo meaning “sweet bay tree”.
The fruit grows where temperatures seldom fall below 10° Fahrenheit. Injury can occur where winter temperatures drop below 0° Fahrenheit. Some cultivars such as Magnolia, Carlos, and Sterling survive north to Virginia and west to the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. Muscadines have a high tolerance to diseases and pests. Over 100 years of breeding has resulted in several bronze cultivars such as Carlos, Doreen, Magnolia and Triumph, that are distinguished by being perfect flowered (male and female flower parts together) from the Scuppernong variety with only female flower parts.
The oldest cultivated grapevine in the world is the 400 year old scuppernong “Mother Vine” growing on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The scuppernong is the state fruit of North Carolina.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, in her Florida memoirs, Cross Creek, [Scribner’s, 1942, pages 222-223] says this: “The Scuppernong grape is not a Florida native, but cuttings from old Carolina and Georgia vines have been brought in with many a covered wagon and on many an ox-cart. The vine thrives here in the dry sandy soil, and on many abandoned clearings, where even the brick chimneys have fallen into dust, a huge Scuppernong will stand, seeming to support the rotten lattice work rather than to be sustained by it, an echo of some dead and gone family struggle for existence. The purple Scuppernong is rich and fat and unexceptional, but the white Scuppernong, in the lands of loving and expert care, makes a vintage wine that can stand with the best Sauterne.”