Friday, September 15, 2017

Food on Friday: Deep Run Roots

Our old house had scuppernong vines enveloping the side fence, providing me my first encounter with this 'grape of the south'. The bronze fruit is actually a type of muscadine, 300 varieties here in the South. That summer I despondently waited for the grapes to turn purple, but soon the sweet-smelling, bronze berries were scattered in the driveway, overripe, fit only for the birds.

I was more prepared the next season, but then I had a newborn demanding all my time and we sold the house and we moved to France and my canning jars sat accumulating dust in storage.

Upon moving back to Greenville I was happy to see muscadine growing along the fence of our new home, and anxiously awaited summer, licking my lips in anticipation of toast and jam. But there were no grapes, and it was only after the second fruitless year that I did a little research and discovered we had a male vine. We promptly planted a mate, and come spring I marveled at all the flowers, once again anticipating a harvest that would put me in jam for the winter. Wouldn’t you know it a majority of the flowers never set, and by fall we had just a handful of grapes, quickly devoured by the boys leaving stained hands and mischievous grins that really were too easy to forgive.

But this year… this year I took no chances, hand-pollinating flowers and watering the muscadine until August when I found the first ripe, dark-purple berry. The boys have still snuck their share, but a majority have found their way into my basket when I go out to check the garden in the mornings. Once I had about 2 pounds, I set about making preserves, a recipe already in mind... Our upcoming cookbook club feast is Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots, a story of southern food filled with southern ingredients – including the indigenous muscadine.

Vivian writes that muscadine grapes have more health benefits than common seedless grapes, but that most of their fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants are in the tough, tannic skin or seeds. I was immediately intrigued by her Grape-Hull Preserves recipe, and one afternoon sat Vilis up on the counter while I squeezed and simmered, strained and sugared. The result was just as advertised; traditional, no-frills preserves that are the perfect accompaniment to buttered biscuits or toast. The boys haven’t yet gotten used to the texture of the skins, but in my defense the seeds are strained out – this is no cherry clafoutis baked with pits and all!

Howard’s other muscadine recipes include Kid Juice and Adult Juice; mulled muscadines and muscadine vinaigrette; pie and chicken thighs. However muscadine season is over and I’m turning my attention to the bushels of apples that came home from the orchard with us last week. Our cookbook club date fast approaching, I’ve still yet to figure out how to serve my preserves – maybe on ENC-Style Buttermilk Biscuits (p. 366) – and I’m itching to try out a couple more recipes: Peaches and Cream Cake (p. 460) and Elbow-Lick Tomato Sandwich (p. 262). The apple glut has me paging through the apple section (conveniently located right after the rutabaga section?), although I’m now regretting not having the book during blueberry season… should I use the last of this summer’s blueberries from the freezer for Blueberry Cobbler with a Cornmeal Sugar-Cookie Crust?

So tell me – do you have Deep Run Roots? What do you think? I would love to hear of any recipes you’ve tried and enjoyed in the comments!

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