Welcome back to The Farm Stand, your weekly guide to seasonal Southern produce.
Aside from maybe rocking chairs on the front porch, a beat-up pick-up with a blue tick hound in the bed or a pig ear sandwich at the Big Apple Inn, nothing sets a Southern scene quite like a wild muscadine vine.
Just like the word peas means something different down here, the image of a grape in the mind of many a Southerner might look more like a blushing green or deep aubergine orb found out in the brush -- put in carboys to bubble into wine or boiled down on the stove into jelly.
This week The Farm Stand talked to Chef Eric Labouchere at New Orleans' Martinique Bistro. Eric is taking muscadines in new directions, but the way he gets them is still classically Southern.
"So I work with this guy, Hammer," he starts out. "He'll go out foraging with his two sons and he'll grab all these wild muscadines. He brings them by here and says 'It's free. They're falling out of the sky.'"
Eric knows how that goes. While living in the Low Country after culinary school and living everywhere from Australia to the Pacific Northwest, he bought a quart of muscadines at a farmers market in Savannah and drove them back to his mom in South Carolina. Later that day, he went out behind the house to clear out some vines for her and found himself being beamed in the head by something familiar.
Now, Eric uses a blend of muscadine juice and wine for "layers of flavor" and a Southern twist on classic European recipes like coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. But one of his favorite ways to enjoy them is in sorbet. "It has a great fresh wine taste and works great as a palate cleanser."
What to Make
Try Eric's easy muscadine sorbet recipe below which combines a puree and simple syrup in an ice cream maker, and check out our guide to all the muscadine varieties from Dixie Red to Darlene you might encounter at your farmers market this weekend.
Place 2 quarts of muscadines, 1 cup red wine, 1 cup sugar and the zest of half a lemon in a stainless steel saucepot and bring to a simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. As skins soften, stir and mash the muscadines on sides of pot. Stir often to prevent sticking or scorching. Pass contents through a fine mesh sieve and reserve puree and pulp in separate containers. Allow puree to cool completely.
Muscadine Simple Syrup
Place 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water in a saucepan and simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Stir in reserved pulp and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Combine equal parts puree and simple syrup with 1 ounce vodka. Stir well and cool completely. Run in an ice cream maker until set according to machine instructions. Transfer to a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and place in freezer for 3 hours.