Grape expectations at the farmers' market

Aug. 23, 2014 @ 12:45 PM

Since moving to North Carolina, and especially since becoming a farmers’ market manager, I have been exposed to a host of new tastes – okra, collards, kohlrabi, sunchokes – and one of the sweetest introductions has been muscadines.

I learned that not only is this large grape a Southern native, it is also our official state fruit!  In fact, they are commonly called scuppernongs for the Scuppernong River in North Carolina, and the world’s oldest grapevine might be a muscadine vine on Roanoke Island!

At the South Durham Farmers’ Market, we will soon be seeing quart containers full of muscadines from Parker Farm & Vineyard. Ashley Parker and her husband, Jason, farm on family land in Hurdle Mills. The grapes were started by Ashley’s father, who decided to diversify his crops in 2001 with funds received through the Tobacco Transition Payment Program.

Now, Ashley and Jason cultivate 12 acres of more than 10 varieties from bronze- to black-colored grapes.  This year, the grapes are ripening a little later than usual due to the high number of overcast days and our atypically (though entirely welcome for this Yankee) cool summer.

Most of the grapes are sold as pick-your-own, but Ashley also harvests a large portion for the market. When I asked her how she likes to enjoy muscadines, Ashley said, “Lots of people like to make jams or preserves, but I prefer to eat them fresh. For every 10 pounds I pick, I eat at least one pound right off the vine.” That is certainly a salutary work snack given the high fiber content of muscadines.

Ashley and Jason also make wine for personal consumption from the grapes, a task I am tempted to undertake this September. Muscadine wines are sweet and often served alongside dessert, but they can be made drier by adding sugar during fermentation. (At the market, customers often ask if moscato wine is derived from muscadines. The answer is no; moscato is made from the muscat grape grown in the Italian Piedmont.)

In addition to enjoying the grapes at market, we invite you to join us for our fundraiser dinner next month to be held at another wonderful muscadine farm in Durham! To raise funds for our SNAP and Double Bucks programs, which help support food stamp recipients, we will be hosting a farm-to-fork dinner at Herndon Hills Farm on September 21st.  Tickets will be on sale shortly. 

Elizabeth Zander is market manager for the South Durham Farmers’ Market, open 8  noon each Saturday and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center, 5410 NC Highway 55.