Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eating for pleasure

One of my favorite foods this time of year is muscadines, but it's a rare indulgence. This is the taste of late summer for me. When I was a kid in the suburbs, the land behind our house had not yet been developed. The edge of our lawn held a small vine of domestic table grapes that never really thrived and then a barbed wire fence covered with their wilder cousins. That rustic fence separated the tailored lawns and gardens of my very proper and self consciously new upper middle class suburb from an undeveloped field and patch of woods. The cotton field behind that is now filled with more subdivisions and commercial properties, and that wild vine disappeared when a more genteel wooden fence took the place of the barbed wire.

My friends and I would take the risk of tetanus shots and cuts from that rusted wire because those muscadines were just too good to resist. Nothing compared to standing barefoot in the weeds with our shirts held out to hold as many as we could get. Being suburban children, we'd cross the fence again and run through my backyard to wash the fruit under the garden hose. That rich heady fragrance seemed to hang in the air and linger on our hands, as we'd then collapse in the grass and eat our wild treat right then and there.

It took one decisive bite to pierce the thick skin. The fruit would then plop onto our tongues. You had to let it slide around your mouth before biting into it. You bit only so you could spit out the largish, flattened oval seed before letting the fruit slide down your throat. Then and only then did you chew the skin with its rich sweetness and faintly tart aftertaste.

Though muscadines range in color from grape green to bronze to burgundy to almost black, I always think of the black ones as true muscadines. Though not technically true, I think of the white ones as scuppernongs, but that is actually only one specific variety. The paler muscadines taste like sweeter grapes to me and lack that edge that provides the finish of the darker fruit. Because of my childhood, I also think of muscadines as a wild fruit, even though they've been cultivated for wines since the 1600s. I usually pick them up at vegetable stands, because you just don't see them in grocery stores often.

Last week, they were overflowing the produce aisle at my usual grocery store. I bought five quarts and started eating the first one on the way home. I finished the last of them today before I could realize my dream of making muscadine jelly. Since I've never made jelly unless I was at my mother's side, I knew this particular dream had little chance of becoming reality. However, I was transported back to a time when summer meant wildness, sweetness and freedom, when the heat was as enjoyable as it is now oppressive and food was just something to be enjoyed and wasn't laden with so many subtleties and confusions. My manners have become somewhat more refined since then. I did refrain from spitting seeds at my family, but I ate my muscadines with the innocence, the sensuality and the abandon I did as a child, even though I did check the points value. (I used the value for grapes, one point per cup.) I want to eat that way more often.

This entry was originally posted at Taking Off.

food, eating, muscadines


Blogger Jiff said...

Wow. What a great post.

September 20, 2007 3:29 PM  

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