Photo: Helen Norman
Bring 2½ cups purple muscadine juice and 2 Tbsp. sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 25 minutes or until reduced to 1 cup. Cool completely (about 30 minutes). Store in refrigerator. Makes 1 cup.
Late-summer days bring vines filled with muscadines, their perfume sweetening the air. The South's favorite grape is tasty, easy to grow, long-lived, and beautiful, with big, round fruit in shades of purple, black, pink, red, green, or bronze. Delicious in juice, jelly, wine, or cobblers, this thick-skinned, seeded treat is also rich in antioxidants, making it a very healthful snack straight from your garden.
Nurseryman Greg Ison and his sisters operate Ison's Nursery & Vineyards, which has been growing muscadines in Brooks, Georgia, since 1934. Greg recalls that his grandfather Grady Ison always used to say, "To be considered a true Southern gentleman, you have to have a magnolia tree, a pecan tree, a fig tree, and a muscadine vine." Lucky for Greg, he has all four.
How To Select Muscadines
Some selections of muscadines are "self-fruitful," meaning you need only one vine to have fruit—a great option for small spaces. Good self-fruitful choices include 'Nesbitt' and 'Dixie Red.' Other muscadines, such as 'Darlene,' 'Pam,' 'Janet,' 'Black Beauty,' and 'Fry,' need to be planted near self-fruitful selections to cross-pollinate and bear fruit. Purchase muscadine vines at your local nursery, or order them from any of the following online sources: isons.com, petalsfromthepast.com, johnsonnursery.com, floridahillnursery.com, and justfruitsandexotics.com.
How To Plant Muscadines
Muscadines thrive in the hot, humid weather of the South. They like a sunny location with good air circulation. They also prefer deep, fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5. Plant container-grown vines in early fall or winter. Mulch plants with pine straw or shredded pine bark to conserve moisture and discourage weeds. Feed with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) or Ferti-lome Fruit, Citrus and Pecan Tree Food (19-10-5) in late winter and early spring. Muscadines have beautiful, coarse leaves that emerge in late spring. They begin ripening at the end of summer. You can pick individual grapes or clusters. In late fall, after they've finished fruiting, their foliage turns a beautiful shade of gold. Remove any fruit left on the vines. Trim the vines in late winter using pruning shears.
How To Train Muscadine Vines
"The simplest way to grow muscadines is on a single wire trellis," says Greg. This will require a little effort on the front end, but once you get your trellis built and your vines growing, they'll be easy to maintain. To build a 5-foot-high, single-wide trellis, you'll need to space two 7-foot treated posts 20 feet apart and sink them 2 feet into the ground. String a #9 galvanized wire between the two posts. Center the vine between the posts. Using twine, attach the vine to a bamboo stake to support it as it grows up toward the wire. Once the vine passes the top of the wire, cut the tip of the vine so two cordons (lateral arms) can develop. Train them in each direction along the wire for the first year, and then remove the stake. Spurs (side growth) will develop along the cordons during the second year. Prune spurs to 2 to 4 inches. You can also train muscadines along a fence or atop an arbor.