Flickr: Southern Foodways Alliance

Scuppernong Grapes are a Southern Wine Secret

If you've spent any time any in the South (and even if you haven't), there's a good chance you've heard of muscadine grapes. This tasty fruit gets turned into a much-favored jelly and wine across the region. But you may not be as familiar with scuppernong grapes. They're large, green-gold or bronze-colored grapes native to the southeastern United States and they're the best grape you've never heard of.

What are Scuppernong Grapes?

Scuppernong grapes are a variety of muscadine. They were grown by Native Americans, who called them ascopo after the sweet bay trees found in North Carolina. Scuppernong grapes are related to the "Mother Vine," a muscadine grape plant found on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, that is hundreds of years old and may be the oldest cultivated grape vine in the U.S. Eventually this particular muscadine cultivar was named scuppernong after the Scuppernong River, and the native grapes are now the state fruit of North Carolina

The grape vines of the vitis rotundifolia, as they're known by their scientific name, aren't like other grape vines. You won't find the tight clusters of the grapes you buy at the grocery store; scuppernong grapes are looser cluster and the fruit are generally larger than other grapes with a thick skin and seeds. The scuppernong vine can grow up to 100 feet in the wild.

If you live anywhere from Delaware to Florida and from Georgia and the Carolinas west to Texas and Oklahoma, you can be a home grower of scuppernong grapes. Scuppernong vines like heat and humidity, well-draining soil and full sun. Grow them in your home garden on a trellis, planting young vines in the late fall and winter. They have a higher disease resistance than other grapes and are easy to grow.

How to use Scuppernongs

The fruit ripens in late summer through mid-October, and that's when you'll find cooks across the South making preserves, jams, jellies, cobblers and, of course, wine. The scuppernong is one of the first grapes to be used in wine making here in the U.S. and for the longest time if you found a winery in the South, scuppernong wine, or muscadine wine, was almost certainly a featured wine. Scuppernongs have an intense, sweet taste, though they are usually a little less sweet than other muscadine grapes.

If you're lucky enough to find scuppernong grapes, you can use any recipe that calls for muscadine grapes. Try this one for wine, this one for scuppernong jelly and even scuppernong pie.

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